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2012 recap: Toyota learn quickly; very quickly

19/01/2013 - 21h54




6 races, 3 wins:  such are the bare facts for the Toyota TS030 Hybrid’s 2012 season in the FIA World Endurance Championship.  It’s a record which was good enough for the Toyota Racing team to be awarded the Rookie Trophy at the Championship’s prize giving last December. But the results weren’t achieved randomly.

The 2012 season started somewhat painfully as the Japanese constructor had to withdraw from  the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the second round of the championship, after Nicolas Lapierre’s private testing accident, thankfully without injury to the driver. While the reason was quickly identified and corrected (water got into the electronics on a soaking track), the chassis was damaged and the team didn’t yet have a second tub available to allow them to take part in the Belgian race in the Ardennes. 

Fans would have to wait until the 24 Hours of Le Mans to see the Japanese petrol-engined Hybrid prototype.  Very quick straight away, the trio of Alexander Wurz – to date the youngest winner of the Le Mans classic – Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima were even able to lead the race against the familiar Audis who brought to France more than a decade of endurance racing experience.

Admittedly a mechanical issue would prematurely put to an end the hopes of the Japanese manufacturer, which would retire shortly before the halfway point in the race, but Audi was warned:  the rest of the season would not be a bed of roses for the marque which carries the Four Rings.  The long summer break in particular would allow the team led by Pascal Vasselon to sharpen its racing claws before the action resumed. 

From the 6 Hours of Silverstone onwards, the game was truly ‘on’:  the TS030 Hybrid finished second, on the same lap as the winning Audi, and Nicolas Lapierre set the fastest lap, just as he did at the 6 Hours of Bahrain which would end in retirement, but this time following a collision with another prototype.

Relief would come two weeks later at the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo with a first pole position and first victory for the Wurz-Lapierre duo – the team’s Japanese driver having a clash with another championship in his own country. The winner was then off and running and the last two races of the season in Japan and China would finish in the same manner for Toyota Racing, in partnership since early season with Oreca, who were very experienced in endurance racing, for operation of the car.

It was therefore on an upward trajectory that Toyota Racing finished the year which bodes well for the 2013 FIA WEC. Audi, as well as Porsche which arrives in LMP1 in 2014 are warned: Toyota, which wasn’t able to realise its dream of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the GT-One, intends to achieve that aim with the TS030 Hybrid for which the Japanese manufacturer has just received the Aerodynamicist of the Year Trophy at the Race Tech World Motorsport Symposium!

Cécile Bonardel (translated by Fiona Miller)

Photo: INTERLAGOS (SAO PAULO, BRAZIL), AUTODROMO JOSE CARLOS PACE, 6 HOURS OF SAO PAULO, SEPTEMBER 16TH 2012. Toyota Racing claimed their first victory at their third attempt.