Toyota crowned and 2015 preview

Toyota crowned…
…so how will rivals be able to hit back in 2015? | By Gary Watkins

Toyota wrapped up its first circuit racing world title in Bahrain and was set to add to the championship for drivers, won by Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, by adding that for manufacturers in the World Endurance Championship finale at Interlagos at the end of November. Its TS040 Hybrid has been the dominant LMP1 car this year, even though it didn’t win the Le Mans 24 Hours. Which begs the question: can Audi and Porsche challenge that superiority in 2015?

Who is coming with what?
Toyota will return with a revised version of the TS040. “It makes no sense,” says Toyota Motorsport GmbH technical director Pascal Vasselon, “to start again from a white sheet of paper.

“We will keep what we think is sound in our concept, but we have improvement targets everywhere. We know all our competitors have a good chance of stepping up significantly. We do not think we can survive with what we have this year.”

Audi appears to have a similar strategy with its current R18 e-tron quattro turbodiesel. Head of motor sport Wolfgang Ullrich says that there “will not be big concept steps”.

Porsche, however, will return with an all-new car, built around a fresh monocoque. It is only natural for a marque back in top-flight sports car racing after a long absence to take a second stab at designing a P1 hybrid, according to programme technical director Alex Hitzinger.

“It was always the plan that we would do a new tub and redesign the car based on what we’d learned in the first year of racing,” he says. “We are a new team and we can’t be expected to optimise our first design.”

Hitzinger stressed, however, that a car that is certain to retain the 919 Hybrid nomenclature will not look radically different to its predecessor to the untrained eye.

What technology will they use?

Toyota will retain the front- and rear-axle kinetic energy-retrieval systems that the TS040 ran in 2014, but crucially hasn’t committed to retaining the super-capacitor energy storage system.

Vasselon has regularly stated that advances in battery technology will one day enforce a switch away from the super-capacitor. “The battery has been on our radar screen for a long time,” he says. “We are waiting for the moment in battery development when it can really be better than the capacitor.”

Audi has all but said that it will again run with a single hybrid system, the front axle kinetic set-up it has used since 2012, though it has revealed that it is still evaluating other systems. All indications are that it will retain the flywheel ‘mechanical battery’ as its energy storage system.

Porsche will retain front-axle kinetic recovery and the turbo-exhaust-driven system of the current 919 Hybrid, in addition to the lithium-ion batteries to store the harvested energy.

How much energy boost?

That is the big question heading into the WEC off-season. All manufacturers have stated their intent to make a step forward in this crucial area.

Porsche and Toyota are aiming to move from the six megajoule class to 8MJ. Both will make a decision after initial testing of their respective 2015 challengers, due to run in December and January. Audi, according to Ullrich, is trying “to do what is possible in a short period”. Given the likelihood that it will have just one energy-retrieval system, that can be interpreted as a step up from two to 4MJ.

Can Audi challenge at 4MJ?

That is the million-dollar question. Ullrich suggests that the performance deficit between a 4MJ Audi and 8MJ cars from Toyota and Porsche could be bigger than this year. “It could be even worse,” he says, “because of the additional factors that came into the rulebook pre-season.” That is a reference to changes to the Equivalence of Technology, which is designed to create a level playing field between the diesel- and petrol-powered P1 machinery, which were made by the FIA and Le Mans organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest ahead of the Silverstone opener in April.

There were minor changes again after Le Mans – and these went marginally against diesel technology.

Will the rules change?

Not before the second, post-Le Mans leg of the 2015 series. That is what is written in the regulations, and the FIA and the ACO insist that there is no provision for any change to that. Audi is trying to argue otherwise on the evidence of the final rounds of the 2014 WEC, when both Toyota and Porsche have outgunned the R18 e-tron quattro.

It believes that changes to the original EoT, introduced ahead of the Silverstone opener in April, have handed an advantage to the petrol-powered cars running in the higher hybrid class. It is arguing that there is scope for revisions within the rules if a manufacturer changes technology, and that a shift in hybrid class constitutes that.

Three cars at Le Mans?

It can be taken as read that Audi will do just that. It has been part of its philosophy almost from the start of its sports car adventure and only twice as a factory team has it not run three or more prototypes at the 24 Hours.

Porsche is undecided. It is working in that direction and has been testing members of its GT roster in the 919 with that in mind, but the final decision – to be taken at board level – is believed to be set for some time in early December.

Toyota would like to run three cars, but is, says Vasselon, unlikely to unless “it gets a nice Christmas present”.

The Japanese manufacturer has a smaller pot of resources in comparison with its German rivals and doesn’t want to compromise development of its 2015 contender.

“No one is interested in having three slow cars,” says Vasselon. “It is not an option for us to divert some budget from the development just to run a third car.”

What about Nissan?

The LMP1 newcomer has been playing its cards close to its chest since the launch of the programme at the end of May. Nissan has promised innovative technical solutions for its 2015 contender, but is not revealing details of the car ahead of its official launch.

That was scheduled for early December, ahead of a first public test at Sebring, Florida, but delays in the programme are known to have put that in doubt.

The qualifying procedure for the WEC is set to change next season. The grid would be based on an aggregate of the best time set by each of two drivers, rather than the two best times of each. The revised format, designed to make qualifying more fan-friendly, will go for FIA approval at the last World Council meeting of the year in early December.