FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP
restrictions on the amount of CFD
(computational fluid dynamics)
development as there are in Formula 1.
That could be another point in the
Toyota’s favour as it strives to close the
gap to Porsche’s 919 Hybrid. So, too,
could an additional cost-saving measure
that limits each manufacturer to just two
aero kits through the season, a reduction
from last year’s three.
Toyota says it will start the season at
Silverstone in April with its TS050s in
high-downforce configuration. Going with
a low-downforce Le Mans car would, says
Vasselon, be a compromise that would
render its cars uncompetitive. Porsche has
yet to reveal its strategy and might not do
so until it launches its 2017 program
ahead of the official pre-season test at
Monza at the start of April.
The second important change for 2017
is a sporting one. The per-car limitation on
tires for qualifying and the race has been
reduced from six sets to four, though the
availability of two joker tires that can be
introduced into the allocation remains.
This, again, could favour Toyota.
The Toyota LMP1 cars have traditionally
been light on their tires since the
manufacturer’s return to the pinnacle of
sports car racing in 2012. Think back to
last year’s Spa round, when an early double
stint on a set of Michelins for the No. 5
car with Sebastien Buemi at the wheel
propelled the Swiss driver into the lead.
Vasselon isn’t sure whether the new
tire rule will play into Toyota’s hands,
though he is happy to say that his team is
“not afraid of it.” Rather, it is “looking
forward to the challenge.”
There’s another factor that should not
be overlooked. Toyota is developing a
year-old concept and should have
substantial gains to make. Porsche, on
the other hand, is going into a third WEC
campaign with the second-generation
919 Hybrid, which in turn was a redesign
of the 2014 car bearing the same name.
Toyota brought in an all-new, twin-turbo
direct-injection V6 engine and was using a
battery energy-storage system for the first
time. Vasselon talks about Toyota “possibly
having more scope for progress than
Porsche with new technologies such as
small capacity turbo engines.”
Vasselon does concede, however, that
the decision to run three cars at Spa and
Le Mans for the first time since the
beginning of the WEC program hasn’t
come with any added budget from Japan.
That has resulted, he says, in a reduced
development in some areas “without
hurting the performance potential too
much.” What he calls an “optimistic
budget” for the third car is a risk, however.
A couple of big shunts could result in some
major cost savings having to be made over
the second half of the season.
Porsche isn’t resting on its laurels as it
bids for a hat-trick of titles and Le Mans
wins and has reworked the 919 concept
once again. Its team principal, Andreas
Seidl, claims that he is confident of “another
good step that will enable us to be
competitive” and points out that “nearly
everything is new around the monocoque.”
Part of that step will be the
development of new high- and low-
downforce aero configurations. And that’s
the sort of luxury Toyota doesn’t have.
4x4 off-roading’s loss
is Toyota’s gain... After
12 years in advanced
race tire research with
headed its Formula 1
Michelin asked him
to switch to 4x4 tire
research for the U.S., he
quit and joined Toyota as
head of F1 chassis R&D.
Toyota left F1 after
2009, but Vasselon
director for the LMP1
program that made its
race debut in 2012.
(LEFT) Left Toyota
base is state of the
art, having been built
for F1, but WEC rules
and the marque’s
decision to put a
chunk of its budget
into a third car for
Spa and Le Mans
means wind tunnel
will be finite and
LEFT) The TS050
HYBRID took its only
2016 win on home
ground, Fuji, Japan.
“The new regulations better
suit our resource limitations,
with more things in common
between the two specs of car”