International racing

Toyota steps up the voltage

Major changes pitch LMP contender into same plane as rivals | By Gary Watkins

Toyota has made a dramatic step forward with its all-new TS050 Hybrid as it attempts to regain the World Endurance Championship titles it won in 2014 and bids for a first Le Mans 24 Hours victory. The drivers are sure of that. But they can’t be confident about how the latest LMP1 stacks up against the opposition over the coming season. 

Anthony Davidson, world champion with Sebastien Buemi in 2014, was so impressed with the new package on his first acquaintance with the TS050 that he admits to laughing in the cockpit. 

“The first lap at Ricard, I was actually laughing in the car. I can’t remember the last time I did that,” he said. “I could feel what Porsche had last year straight away. The difference really was laughable. It finally made me fully understand the challenge we faced in 2015.”

That challenge was competing against a car that was running in the eight megajoule hybrid class with a machine homologated in the 6MJ division. Toyota has addressed that for 2016 by moving up to 8MJ while also abandoning its super-capacitor energy storage system in favour of a Porsche-style lithium-ion battery. It has also brought on-stream a new V6 twin-turbo engine to replace its normally-aspirated V8 and opted for a more extreme aerodynamic approach. 

The improvements to Toyota’s energy-retrieval system are two-fold. Not only does the jump in hybrid class give the TS050 the same amount of harvested energy to deploy each lap as reigning champion Porsche, but the switch to a battery gives it a flexible storage system. 

“You can store energy and deliver it whenever you want with a battery,” explained Toyota Motorsport GmbH technical director Pascal Vasselon. “You can give a couple of big boosts if you need, whereas with the super-capacitor we had to give several small boosts.”

Toyota’s hybrid system remains distinct from Porsche’s in one key area. The Porsche 919 Hybrid retrieves via a front-axle kinetic system and an exhaust-driven turbine. The Japanese manufacturer has retained its twin kinetic energy retrieval systems for its new car. 

Vasselon revealed that Toyota’s simulations suggest that a system harvesting energy at the front and rear wheels has a higher ‘energy density’ – it can retrieve more energy for a given weight. Or, more simply, “it’s heavier but you get more performance out of it”. 

The decision to introduce a new engine for 2016 followed Toyota’s trouncing at the Spa WEC round last May. It had planned to move to a turbo for 2017, but was forced to bring that forward.

“The necessity of major change was fully understood at Spa,” said Vasselon. “A normally aspirated V8 can provide good peak efficiency, but in a narrow rev range. The turbo is much more robust and more consistent in terms of peak fuel efficiency with rpm, temperature and ambient pressure.”

The result of a post-Spa feasibility study is a 2.4-litre V6 developed at Toyota’s technical centre in Japan. Moving to a V6 was “a natural step” for anyone running a V8, said Vasselon.

The first two tests of the TS050 early this season were undertaken with the 3.7-litre V8 in the back. This was because the new Xtrac gearbox for the car was not yet ready. 

First photos of the TS050 reveal that Toyota has raised the nose of its P1, though the front-aero treatment is nowhere near as extreme as that on the latest Audi R18. This comes at a time when aero targets are being revised downwards because the per-lap fuel allocation has been cut, but LMP1 project leader John Litjens explained
that the chosen configuration represented “the more efficient route to a low-downforce target”.

Has Toyota done enough to get back on terms with Porsche, which has undertaken a significant upgrade of last year’s championship-winning 919, and Audi with its all-new R18? The fact that all three P1 manufacturers are effectively racing in the same hybrid class – the regulations put Audi’s 6MJ turbodiesel on a par with its petrol rivals in terms of total energy available – should close the gaps between them. 

It’s anyone’s guess after that. Making predictions on the evidence of the official WEC test at Paul Ricard at the end of March hasn’t always been easy. The so-called ‘prologue’ has provided conflicting evidence in the past. Ditto Silverstone, scene of the series opener on April 17, courtesy of its high-speed nature. That means round two at Spa on May 7 will once again provide pointers for which the world is waiting. 

“We will know where we are at Spa,” reckoned Vasselon. “It is the circuit that gives a true indication of pecking order.”

New mapping for Formula E

Formula E has abandoned its planned switch to open chassis rules for 2018-19 – and possibly beyond. 

The FIA has invited tenders for a new one-make chassis to replace the existing Dallara-built electric vehicle, initially known as the Spark SRT_01E, for the season in which it is intended that Formula E will abandon the practice of drivers each using two cars over the course of a race. It has instigated the same process for a new battery to be introduced at the same time. 

The move is the latest change in the Formula E road map. The first step was the opening up of development of the powertrains for the current second season of the championship, but the plan to allow manufacturers to produce their own batteries for season three in 2016-17 was abandoned last March.  

“Manufacturers are coming because they want to showcase their expertise in EV technology, not that they are able to develop high-level aerodynamics,” said Formula E sporting manager Benoît Dupont. “We want to maintain the budgets at a decent level.”

The latest decision was made in conjunction with the teams. François Sicard, boss of the championship-winning e.dams squad, suggested that the opening up of the chassis rules at a time when the teams will also have to invest in a new battery would be prohibitive. 

“Everyone is concerned about keeping costs under control,” he said. “This is a decision to avoid a cost surge.”

No lifespan is set for the second-generation Formula E racer, though Dupont suggested “two, three or possibly four years”, adding the road map would “continue to evolve” as the series approaches its goal of one-car races.