The Japanese auto giant made the official announcement last October that it would be competing in Le Mans and the new World Endurance Championship in the LMP1 class in 2012, albeit with the help of France’s Oreca.
However, until now, the only evidence of Toyota’s progress was a teaser image of its new hybrid LMP1 prototype racer. But thanks to a Toyota PR employee in the UK, we now have our first glimpses of the actual race car.
Visually, the new prototype looks very similar to other contemporary LMP cars from the likes of Audi and Peugeot. A narrow fixed canopy cockpit with a mandated dorsal fin is flanked by two Formula 1-style side pods. It's hard to tell in the photographs, but it also looks like Toyota will be using the same sized wheels and tires on the front and rear axles, which is currently in fashion in the LMP1 class.
2012 Toyota LMP1 hybrid Le Mans prototype - Photo: AUTOhebdo
As was previously announced, and is scrawled prominently across the fin of the LMP1 Toyota, this car is a hybrid. It's being developed by Toyota Motorsport GmbH, which is the same division that ran Toyota's F1 program. Which internal combustion engine the car uses is still unknown, but it's safe to say it will be a small capacity V-6 or V-8 fueled by gasoline.
Does this mark the end for diesel dominance at Le Mans? Not necessarily. It's been rumored that Audi originally designed its diesel-powered R18 racers to accommodate a drivetrain with hybrid assistance in anticipation of a new set of rules that could favor hybrids.
Despite Peugeot's exit, rest assured that the future of endurance racing is looking very bright. With Audi's ongoing commitment to the sport, Toyota's return this year and Porsche's return in 2014, Le Mans endurance racing will remain very exciting this year and in many more to come.