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19 October 2011

Toyota marks return to Le Mans in 2012

Words by Christopher Kho
 
toyota_lmp1
After a 13 year absence, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) have announced that they will finally make a return to the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2012. Competing with a gasoline-electric hybrid LMP1, Toyota is entering their prototype in the inaugural season of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) World Endurance Championship. Although Toyota might not have intentions to contest in all of the series' rounds, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours is certainly on the top of their priority list. 
 
The LMP project will most likely be headed by Cologne-based Toyota Motorsport GmbH, the same people behind the Panasonic Formula 1 team and the Toyota GT-One (codenamed TS020) - the Japanese giant's last attempt at Le Mans in 1999. With over four decades of experience, eight of which were spent in Formula 1, they should have no trouble taking on Peugeot and the unstoppable Audi's. It'll be quite interesting though how the petrol-electric hybrid will fair up against the more popular turbo-diesels.
 
Toyota so far has given no details on the prototype's specifications, team name, and even the list of drivers. We, however, won't be surprised if they tap into the list of their ex-Formula 1 drivers who have moved on to endurance racing, namely Olivier Panis, Ricardo Zonta, and two-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish. 
 
This decision comes as a surprise as almost all Japanese automakers, except for Nissan, have stopped their international motorsports program. It's also quite ambitious considering that there's less than a year to develop the prototype in time for Le Mans, especially when compared to Porsche's three year timeframe for its re-entry into the series by 2014. Lets just hope that Toyota finally clinches victory that has eluded them since they entered Le Mans. 
 
"We have competed in Le Mans before, but by using our hybrid technology, our participation in 2012 will be completely new. We want to make history in the Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as in the FIA World Endurance Championship, through use of our hybrid technology. In addition, we aim to learn from the experience of competing in such a challenging motorsport environment to enhance our production-car technology," said Tadashi Yamashina, Senior Managing Officer for Toyota's motorsports activities, during the announcement.