Toyota stands in for Peugeot in WEC

Toyota has stepped into the void left by Peugeot’s shock withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship.

The Japanese manufacturer had planned to contest just a handful of races around the Le Mans 24 Hours on an invitational basis, but it has now registered as a manufacturer and will contest a minimum of six of the eight WEC races. The decision of Toyota to join Audi in chasing the WEC title means that series promoter, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, now has the minimum two manufacturers it requires for the world title to be awarded in the LMP1 prototype category.

The ACO moved fast after Peugeot decided to end its 908 turbodiesel programme after five seasons of racing on the day that entries for the WEC were originally due to close. It extended the entry deadline and tried to persuade Toyota to increase its commitment to the series.

This was acknowledged by Toyota on the launch of its new TS030 hybrid LMP1 contender the week after Peugeot’s pull-out. But it stressed that a full programme of events with multiple cars in what is billed as a development year was not possible. A compromise was reached that persuaded Toyota to extend its programme. The series rules are to be changed so there is no mandatory participation in all the rounds, and one rather than two cars from each marque will score manufacturer points.

Yoshiaki Kinoshita, president of the Toyota Motorsport GmbH team, which masterminds the TS030 programme, said: “The circumstances for the championship changed suddenly in the last weeks, and Toyota Racing considers it important to work together with the FIA and ACO to establish a successful future for endurance racing. We have done everything we can to show our support and we look forward to an exciting season.”

Toyota has filed one entry for the WEC in 2012. It has two TS030s on the Le Mans entry list and is also likely to have a pair of cars at its home race at the Fuji circuit in Japan in October. The car, which was launched at the end of January, will not be present at the WEC event at Sebring which opens the season. It will make its debut at the Spa 6 Hours in May.

Peugeot axed its sports car programme in order to focus its resources on the launch of a series of new road models in the coming year. The decision was made against the backdrop of a poor sales year in 2011 in key European markets for the French manufacturer.

The decision came as a surprise to the Peugeot Sport competitions department which ran the 908 project, despite the likelihood that its Le Mans campaign would be cut from three to two cars. It had already set a date for the launch of its 2012 programme, at which it would have been confirmed that it would run its 908s in hybrid specification, and two uprated 2011 cars were already in the US for a test due to start at Sebring three days after the decision.

Toyota’s two cars on the Le Mans entry are joined by four from Audi, its biggest factory assault on the 24 Hours since 1999. It will field two R18 TDI coupes running in hybrid specification and two in conventional form.

Audi Sport Wolfgang Ullrich said: “The first test results [of the hybrid] are very encouraging and we are intrigued to see just how this technology performs on the race track at Le Mans.

“We still, however, see the potential with conventional drive, just as our colleagues do in the production department. This is why we are absolutely delighted that the ACO and FIA selection committee has accepted our entries and that we can join the grid with four cars.”

Sports car legend Henri Pescarolo’s team is abandoning the design it has run since 2007 in favour of a split attack on the 24 Hours. It has joined forces with Japanese constructor Dome to run an uprated version of the S102 coupe that raced at Le Mans in 2008 and is also building a new car around the monocoque and suspension of the ill-fated Aston Martin AMR-One.

The new car, to be called the Pescarolo 03, will be distinguished by all-new bodywork and will be powered by a 3.4-litre Judd V8. Pescarolo explained that the team had opted to go for the AMR-One monocoque to allow the team to take a significant aerodynamic step.

The new car, which will be entered for the WEC, will not be ready in time for Sebring, but Pescarolo has won permission to run its 2011 car powered by a Judd V10 in the series opener.

The US Dyson team will race at Le Mans for the first time after taking its two guaranteed entries garnered through its successes in the American Le Mans Series. A further five P1 cars are on the entry list for the 24 Hours.

Gary Watkins