It’s official: Toyota’s top-class LMP1 team is sticking around for the entire transitional World Endurance Championship “superseason,” which spans roughly a year and a half and ends with a second running of Le Mans.
The WEC was left in a weird place after Porsche withdrew from the series, leaving Toyota as the lone manufacturer in its top class. The WEC was forced to rethink its entire operation as a result, and the series now wants to end with its biggest race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That’s tricky, as the last season followed a normal annual schedule and wrapped up in November, so as not to skip a year at Le Mans, the WEC is running a strange year-and-a-half long transitional season that ends with Le Mans in 2019.
Fortunately, Toyota is all about riding through that wacky schedule.
A statement from the Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 team confirms that they’re sticking to running a hybrid in the WEC, and that they were waiting on the full 2018-2019 rules to be approved before they made an announcement:
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will compete in the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season after reaffirming its commitment to the development of hybrid powertrain technology through motorsport.
Following the publication of the LMP1 regulations for next season, which Toyota has played an active part in defining, the team can commit to enter its TS050 HYBRID race cars for at least the 2018-19 season.
This was largely expected at this point, but it’s good to hear Toyota confirm it once and for all. I mean, one does not typically release a crazy Le Mans prototype-inspired concept car without sticking with a Le Mans prototype effort. (I’d still welcome Porsche shoehorning the good ol’ 919 drivetrain into a road car, though. Yo, Porsche, make that happen.)
The catch, of course, is that no other manufacturers have joined Toyota for this superseason. Porsche dropped the series after 2017, leaving privateer LMP1s—which haven’t had the best record of sticking around in the past—as Toyota’s only competition after the rules shake-up. Hopefully that changes with the new regulations, because my wish for endurance races is the same as the direction Mills Lane gives before each Celebrity Deathmatch: “I want a good, clean fight.”
Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda also alluded to some big promises in the future for the road-car side in the team’s statement today, hopefully derived from their continued presence at Le Mans somehow:
Not only did we want to heighten environmental performance in terms of fuel efficiency and such, we also had a very strong desire to create hybrid cars that made drivers feel that driving is fun, and that made them want to keep at it and want to let the cars keep on going.
This year, I went to Le Mans for the first time and heard people cheering for Toyota. I also heard many people saying that they would like to see Toyota come out with a hybrid sports car like our cars in the race.
I, too, would like us to produce just such a car, and I think it would be one that would help make cars fun for the next 100 years.
We’re gonna need to see (and drive) the receipts for that. I know how much fun the instant torque from an electrified car can be, but most mass-market hybrids don’t let enough of that torque loose to have any fun. The Prius series is basically today’s Paseo—y’all keep calling it fun and the low horsepower and torque stats don’t support that claim.