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Toyota confirms Le Mans comeback

Toyota will next year mount its first factory assault on the Le Mans 24 Hours since 1999 with a petrol-powered LMP1 hybrid (below).

The Japanese manufacturer has been known to be evaluating a return to Le Mans using energy-retrieval technology for several years, but the timing of its move is a surprise. It had been looking at 2012 but was believed to have delayed its Le Mans return in the wake of the economic problems in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in March.

Few details of the new programme have been announced except that the Toyota LMP1 to be built at Toyota Motorsport in Cologne will be a hybrid and a coupe. The configuration of its engine and the extent of its programme in 2012 have yet to be announced.

Speculation that next year’s Toyota campaign will be a toe-in-the-water exercise has been backed up by comments from Toyota Motorsport president Toshiaki Kinoshita.

“At this stage we can only confirm our participation in 2012, when we will have various targets. We want to increase our understanding of LMP1 racing; develop our technology to make it more competitive and stronger; and become the first hybrid car to finish on the podium in a top-level international endurance race.”

It is understood that Toyota might only field one car at Le Mans next year and will contest a limited number of FIA World Endurance Championship events around it. The Spa WEC round, prior to Le Mans, and races in the Far East in China and Japan are likely to be part of its schedule.

Toyota Motorsport has admitted that it has been evaluating LMP1 designs since 2010, but the late go-ahead for the project means it is unlikely that the LMP1 will be ready in time to contest the WEC opener at Sebring in March. Toyota Motorsport masterminded the Japanese manufacturer’s last Le Mans campaign in 1998/99 with the GT-One. It took a close second to BMW in the latter of those two years.

Gary Watkins

McLaren agrees Button deal

Jenson Button put an end to talk that he might be free to move elsewhere by signing a new multi-year contract to extend his stay at McLaren.

While the team had always insisted that Button would remain, the duration of his contract was a major sticking point. The exact length of the new deal has not been made public.

With Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel already committed to long-term deals at Ferrari and Red Bull respectively, the grid should have a familiar look to it for some time to come.

Speculation will now focus on whether the seats occupied by Mark Webber at Red Bull and Felipe Massa at Ferrari will be up for grabs in 2013.

“I am very happy,” said Button of his future. “We are so close to fighting with Red Bull, but yet so far. It is good to have the continuity going into the next couple of years.

“It is going to help us take the fight to them next season, I hope. That’s what we are working towards. I have been enjoying racing and it is nice to finally get a deal in place for the near future.”

Michelin joins Delta Wing bid

The revolutionary Delta Wing sports car that will race at next year’s Le Mans 24 Hours has been given the seal of approval by Michelin.

The French tyre supplier has become the first technical partner of the Delta Wing project, which has been granted ‘garage 56’ at Le Mans, reserved for an environmentally-friendly car. It will produce the 4in and 12.5in-wide front and rear tyres for the lightweight car.

Serge Grisin, Michelin’s head of four-wheel motor sport, explained that his company had signed up for the project after studying data supplied by Delta Wing designer Ben Bowlby.

“We now know this is something that can work,” said Grisin. “This represents a chance to accelerate our innovation processes and think outside the box.” Highcroft Racing boss Duncan Dayton, who put together the consortium behind the Delta Wing under the Project 56 banner, said: “Michelin would not put their name to the concept if they didn’t believe it could be a success. They clearly weren’t going to just take our word for it. They had to do the correct due diligence.”

The Delta Wing, which should run in December, is being built around an existing LMP1 monocoque, for reasons of time. Bowlby said that “speculation was accurate” about the Delta Wing using the Aston Martin AMR-One monocoque.

Tacit confirmation that two of the six AMR-One tubs have been sold to Delta Wing appears to bring the curtain down on Aston’s LMP1 project. It fits in with chairman David Richard’s claim that the AMR-One’s return to the track “might be in a different guise”.

Delta Wing feature, p84

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