Toyota’s hybrid family is expanding yet again, but we’re not talking about the new 2012 Camry Hybrid or the forthcoming Prius C. Instead, the automaker announced it will design, build, and field a hybrid LMP race car at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of the FIA’s new World Endurance Championship.
This isn’t Toyota’s first venture into the world of prototype racing, but it is the first in nearly a decade. Toyota last competed in Le Mans with its wild GT-One racer in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, but pulled out in 2000 in order to focus its efforts on F1 racing – a pursuit it since abandoned.
As was the case with the GT-One, the new hybrid LMP car will be developed by Toyota’s German motorsports wing. The powertrain, however – which the automaker says comprises of an undisclosed engine paired with an electric motor – will be developed and engineered entirely in Japan. It’s highly unlikely that the car will use any variation of Toyota’s famous Hybrid Synergy Drive, since Le Mans regulations forbid automatic transmissions, which would exclude HSD’s continuously-variable unit. Our best guess is the car will likely use a Kinetic Energy Recovery System, in the form of a flywheel capacitor system (like the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid) or a more conventional battery-operated system.
Toyota is obviously shooting for the stars with this new car: competing in the LMP1 class will mean Toyota, who hasn’t competed in Le Mans racing since 1999, will slot directly against the circuit’s two heavyweights, the Peugeot 908 HDi and Audi R18 TDI.
This won’t be the first time that a team has campaigned a hybrid racecar around Circuit de la Sarthe: at this past year’s race, the Swiss team Hope Racing designed and raced a hybrid car powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and coupled to a KERS system. The car made it around the track 115 times before the team was forced to retire.It also looks like the new Toyota will have to face another electrified competitor: the Peugeot Hybrid4, which was shown at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year and is expected to compete at Le Mans next year. Based off the aforementioned 908 HDi, the car couples pairs a 3.7-liter, 550-hp turbo-diesel V-8 engine with an 80-horsepower motor.
In any event, it should be interesting to see what Toyota’s German and Japanese engineers do with the car. And if this is what Toyota intends to do with the profits from the sales of hum-drum sedans, we wholeheartedly approve.