Toyota Gazoo Racing’s 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship will start in earnest this week with round one of the series taking place at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Fernando Alonso will make his WEC race debut in the No8 TS050 Hybrid Toyota he is sharing with last year’s Spa winners Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. The No7 line-up remains unchanged from last year, with Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López.
British driver Mike Conway is keen to get back into race action: “Spa is one of my favourite circuits, so I can’t wait to get there. It should be interesting driving the low-downforce package there and I’m sure it’s going to feel quick. I like the event in general in Spa, the fans are proper petrol heads and the atmosphere, especially if we get good weather, is always great. We were very strong there last year and our car could have won, but we got unlucky with safety cars. So after a lot of work in pre-season to be prepared, I’m looking forward to kick off the season now and I hope to do so with a strong result.”
Saturday’s race, which takes place only about 75 miles from the team’s Cologne base, marks the start of a new era for Toyota Gazoo Racing, with the performance and efficiency of its hybrid electric powertrain set to be tested more rigorously than ever before. After six years racing against hybrid competitors from fellow manufacturers in the LMP1 class, Toyota will now take on a field of eight non-hybrid cars entered by privateer teams which benefit from significant performance enhancements. These include 49 per cent more fuel energy per lap, 37.5 per cent more fuel flow and 45kg lower minimum weight.
To be competitive, Toyota’s hybrid electric powertrain must again demonstrate the benefits of development progress that has seen fuel consumption improved by 35 per cent since the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Such improvements have contributed to Toyota’s continuing efforts to make ever-better road cars for its customers.
In preparation for the new season, Toyota Gazoo Racing has covered more than 25,000km in winter testing. Their target this weekend is to seal a third victory at the classic circuit.
The Spa race is traditionally a warm-up for the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, as it gives teams a final chance for teams to compete with their cars before the biggest race of the year. This year the launches an extended season with eight events covering 84 hours of racing, concluding with the 2019 Le Mans race.
The 1,000hp TS050 Hybrid will compete at Spa in low-downforce Le Mans specification, which sacrifices aerodynamic grip in corners for higher top speed on the long straights. Last year the Toyota set the fastest single lap time of the weekend.
The first track action of the new season takes place on Thursday, with two 90-minute practice sessions in the afternoon. Friday sees final practice followed by qualifying while Saturday’s race begins at 1.30pm local time.