A Race of Technology


The latest Le Mans Race is not just about men and their race cars, it is also men and their technologies. Two of the race participants, Toyota and Audi, use kinetic energy recovery systems. These systems store energy produced during braking and is used as a boost during acceleration.

The 80th Le Mans Race is a 24 hour grueling endurance race and it is considered one of the most difficult roadway races in the world. Not only does it test the mettle of the car and the driver, it also has become the laboratory for the most advanced car technologies in the world today.

The organizers of the race, the Automobile Club de l’Quest and the International Automobile Federation, have allowed new rules for the participant cars that would use environmentally friendly technologies during the 24 hour endurance race. One car would go to the extreme, the Delta Wing in car number 56 while four other cars from the two car makers would use hybrid technology at a level never before seen in the racing world.

The two car manufacturers are Audi and Toyota, who also are odd-on favorites to win the Le Mans. Audi has been a dominant force in the twenty four hour race since 2000, missing out the top spot only in 2003, when a Bentley using Audi technology won the race and the Peugeot won the 2009 race.

The race is set up by having 55 cars in four different categories running against each other for 24 hours, at speeds reaching 300 kilometers per hour or 185 miles per hour. Le Mans though has been known about endurance rather than speed but with the new elements in the race cars, it is now all about sustainability.

Toyota jumped from Formula 1 in 2009 to the Le Mans in 2010 and has become the top contender to Audi after Peugeot pulled out due to financial constraints. According to Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s Racing Director, “We were hoping to come in a little more comfortably with the two previous winners fighting it out and us coming in modestly. But things have happened a little differently.”

He adds that Toyota had joined the event due to the challenge of having hybrid technology developed for road cars and showcases the value of this technology. He further added, “The orientation towards Le Mans is directly related to several factors, including the fact that Toyota wants to be involved in global motor sport. And the arrival of the regulations in 2011 that open the doors to high powered hybrids evidently contributed to the interest of Toyota in endurance sports car racing.”

Amongst the technology being used in the hybrid cars in the race would be kinetic energy recovery systems. These systems store energy when the car brakes and then is used as a booster when accelerating out of a corner. While Formula One vehicles utilize this technology, their boosting capacity is limited to just 400 kilojoules or about 80 horsepower per go of the driver controlled system.

At Le Mans, the driver does not control the energy system and would go when the car reaches speeds of 120 kph after exiting a corner where the brakes has stored the energy. The system would generate 500 kilojoules or about 200 horsepower, a greater level of boost compared to the Formula One system. Toyota uses its KERS system, which powers the rear wheels and utilizes capacitors to store the energy generated during braking.

For its part, Audi’s car would be driven by eight time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen. The Audis for the competition have undergone design overhauls, with the hybrid cars having ninety components different from the standard vehicle. Kristensen said, “All drivers get very motivated with new technology and that is what we try to do here is develop something that will be relevant in a road car in the future. It is the 80th race in Le Mans. It is a legendary race. But we must always keep optimizing what we learn. That it is also another challenge, it is what motor sport is all about: It’s not just about getting the ball across to the other side of a line. There are so many things to it and to me that is what makes it attractive. And when the race starts at 3 p.m., the race is on.”

Racers, start your engines!

Toyota Rejoins Le Mans Race with Hybrid Car


Toyota Motor Corp has recently announced its motorsports division based in Germany would be competing in the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship Circuit. This circuit includes the famed 24-hour race of Le Mans.

Joining the race would be a newly designed racecar. This car would be powered by a hybrid engine. Previously, the division designed a hybrid car that set a lap record for electric vehicles on the Nurburgring track.

The last time Toyota competed in this racing circuit was in 1998 using its GT-One racecars. This car design registered the fastest qualifying laps in Le Mans. Disappointingly, the GT-Ones faltered during the race with only one of the three qualifying cars able to finish. The car placed second overall after BMW.

The new Toyota racecar hybrid would be competing in the premier LMP1 class. It would have a hybrid powertrain to be built in Japan. The chassis would be built in Cologne at Toyota Motorsport. The first tests would be conducted early next year and the race schedule would be determined in the coming weeks, according to the team.

In a media release, Toyota Motorsport Chairman Tadashi Yamashina said, “We want to write a new page in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, through our use of hybrid technology.”

Last August, the Toyota Motorsport Racing Team set a manufacturer-confirmed lap time of 7 minutes and 47.8 seconds on a pure electric racer. The chassis of this racecar was designed by Radical, a British manufacturer. For this new venture, Toyota did not confirm if it would partner with the same boutique manufacturer or if other partners would be included in the development of the LMP1 car. Other details such as the participating races, team name, drivers and other information would be disclosed in the near future.

In the LMP1, Toyota would go up against racing giants such as Audi and Peugeot. In its history, Toyota managed to have quick cars but tire problems forced two of the three entries to retire from the legendary 24-hour race. As of date, Toyota had abandoned the Endurance program to focus on its Formula One racing team.

Yamashina added, “In addition, we aim to learn from the experience of competing in such a challenging motorsport environment to enhance our production car technology. Le Mans is a legendary race and I would like to thank the ACO and the FIA for their constructive and positive cooperation over the last few months.”

Currently, the ACO or the Automobile Club de l’Quest and the FIA or Federation Internationale de l’Automobile has run the Le Mans 24 hour race as well as the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. This cup race runs through Europe, the United States and select Asian countries.