Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Toyota Returning to Le Mans with Oreca Partnership

Photo Credit: Toyota Europe

Surging to the top of production car sales during the late 1990s, Japanese automaker Toyota attempted to secure the crown jewel in sports car endurance racing. In the 1997 running of the 24 hours of Le Mans race, Toyota’s GT-One prototype car appeared primed to celebrate motorsport’s greatest staple in durability. However, within 30 minutes of the race's completion, a mechanical problem suffered on the lead car cost the Japanese brand the right to claim a precious manufacturer victory. Attempting two more times to take the Le Mans 24-Hour event, Toyota gave up on their ambition for sports car racing supremacy at the famous French race for 12 years. In 2012, the prototype class will once again have a Toyota branded vehicle competing for top honours.

Displayed as a closed cockpit prototype, the rendering released on the new LMP1 sports car will be built at Toyota's technical and motorsport center in Cologne, Germany. Campaigning in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as select sports car events, the Toyota LMP1 car will be powered by a gasoline engine combined with hybrid technology. Toyota Motor Corporation experience in hybrid gas/electric powertrain technology in road cars will play a part in developing the brand new race car.

Unlike the last time where Toyota Motor Corporation set up a European racing operation (which later became the base for a Toyota Formula 1 program), the Japanese auto company has entered a partnership deal with Groupe Oreca for field cars through the 2012 World Endurance Championship of sports car racing rounds. President of Oreca Hugues de Chaunac boasted “It's a very big day for Oreca.” following the announced collaboration with Toyota. Making a household name of itself when it campaigned the Dodge Viper (known as the Chrysler Viper in European) through GT competition in the late 1990s, Oreca has been consistently involved with the prototype sports car categories. Oreca's most recent landmark triumph on the race track was an overall class victory at the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring where the group competed with a customer Peugeot 908 race car. In the American Le Mans Series' LMPC category, all race chassis structures are sourced from France's Groupe Oreca. Well-seasoned French sports car team Oreca is set to provide the operational support. (similar to the work Team Joest performs for Audi Sport’s Audi R18).

Testing for the new Toyota prototype sports car should be conducted over the winter. Along with more extensive details on the race vehicle, the driver line-up for the 2012 Oreca/Toyota team should be finalized at a later date.

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