Toyota Will Try To Continue Its Le Mans Winning Streak This Year With The GR010 HYBRID
Toyota has experienced more than one heartbreaking “almost” at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since it started competing at the event in 1985, but the last few years have seen the manufacturer finding success to the tune of three first place overall finishes in a row from 2018-2020. To continue the streak in 2021 under the new Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) regulations, Toyota will pin its pride and hope on this, the GR010 HYBRID.
The GR010 is the first of the new LMH machines to be revealed, and although it bears some aesthetic resemblance to the outgoing LMP1 Toyota TS050 it replaces, the new car is quite different. It’s less powerful (by roughly a third), it’s heavier (by about 357lbs for a total weight of 2,293lbs), and it’s bigger (in all three directions) than its predecessor to be sure, but it could be part of a far more exciting cadre of top-class endurance racers because of it, not in spite of it. And this thing is certainly not slow or heavy or big in absolute terms.
The GR010 is powered by a hybrid system that includes a gas-powered 3.5L twin-turbo V6 driving the rear wheels that is capable of producing 671hp, and an electric motor on the front axle with a maximum output of 268hp. However, the LMH rules state that the cars cannot produce more than 500kW (671hp) of total combined power at any given time, so Toyota has engineered the GR010’s V6 to supplement the electric motor’s output with the precise amount to get up to the limit.
Another interesting stipulation in the rules limits the use of the electric motor until the car is traveling at 120km/h (75mph), which means the GR010 and its ilk will have to handle the slower-speed corners with just the rear wheels being driven, reducing the slingshot corner exits of its predecessor. Added to this complexity is the fact that the balance of performance (BoP) handicapping system will be implemented for the LMH class (previously, the BoP did not affect LMP1), which has the potential of imposing stricter limits—or potentially more freedoms—on how the hybrid systems can be used on a race to race basis, in addition to modifications to weight, overall power output, fuel capacity, etc.
The LMH regulations’ overall goal is to democratize the front-running pack at Le Mans and other events in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) calendar by effectively limiting the amount of technological development (a strong synonym for budget) that the big manufacturers can pursue, thus opening the door to teams that don’t have hundreds of millions to spend on the R&D required to build a winning car. The hypercars will be clocking slower lap times—Toyota estimates a 10-second increase at Le Mans—but the potential tradeoff is for more competitive cars on the lead lap. Given that the battles in the lower GT classes were often much more entertaining to watch than the LMP1 class for most of the 21st century, this is a potentially very good thing from the spectator and competitor perspective alike.
Further restrictions of the Hypercar class (which will be joined in 2022 by the LMDh class that is eligible for both the North America-based IMSA series and the international WEC), include a minimum weight of 1,030kg (2,270 lbs) and more restrictive aerodynamics—the same bodywork must be used for all races, with only one movable piece. That means no high downforce bodies for short tracks and low-drag Le Mans specials. In the case of the Toyota, the team has opted to make the rear wing the single piece of movable aero. It will be interesting to see if some teams opt for an aero package that splits the differences across the season’s races, or if they focus on the crown jewel event, Le Mans.
Whether or not the first race of the 2021 WEC season (the Sebring 1000 Miles in late March) is called off, Toyota will be joined this season by hypercars from Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, Austrian-based ByKolles Racing, with another Le Mans veteran, Peugeot, slated for 2022. Audi and Porsche are also expected to compete in the WEC with their respective LMDh cars, but not until 2023. If all of this comes to fruition over the next few years it could make for the most competitive and exciting endurance racing in the modern era. At the very least, it will give Toyota another chance to prove it has what it takes to beat Porsche and Audi at Le Mans.