TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will begin a new era with its GR010 HYBRID Hypercar when the road to the Le Mans 24 Hours opens at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) on 1 May.
A direct successor to the legendary Group C period of the 1980s and 1990s, the spectacular LMP1 era has reached its conclusion, handing over the top category of endurance racing to the Le Mans Hypercar generation.
Reigning World Champion and three-time Le Mans winner TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is the first manufacturer on the Hypercar grid in 2021, alongside Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, with Audi, Ferrari, Peugeot and Porsche among those joining the battle in the coming years.
Following an intense pre-season testing programme, the all-new GR010 HYBRID Hypercar is ready for its race debut as the team aims to defend its world titles and win a fourth consecutive the Le Mans 24 Hours with an unchanged driver line-up.
For the fourth season, World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López share the #7 GR010 HYBRID, while last year’s Le Mans winners Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley are at the wheel of the #8 GR010 HYBRID.
Despite thousands of testing kilometres already completed at three different circuits since the GR010 HYBRID first turned a wheel in October last year, the final step of preparation for Spa is still to come, with a two-day official Prologue test taking place at the legendary Belgian circuit on 26-27 April.
That represents the first time the GR010 HYBRID will be on track with rival cars, giving the team and drivers an important opportunity to evaluate the new car in traffic and against its main competitors Alpine, which races a grandfathered LMP1 car.
The GR010 HYBRID features a front motor generator unit, delivering 272PS of hybrid power and four-wheel-drive traction at speeds over 120km/h. Combined with a 3.5litre V6 engine, the driver has 680PS at his disposal, with no restrictions on fuel usage. In contrast, the TS050 HYBRID weighed 162kg less and boasted 1000PS, although strict per-lap fuel restrictions effectively limited top speeds.
With such fundamental differences compared to its all-conquering predecessor, drivers will need to adapt their approach, while engineers fine-tune the new Hypercar for maximum performance, particularly when passing the slower LMP2 and GT cars.
Aside from on-track performance, the whole team also has to adapt to new regulations which limit the size of the operational crew at the circuit to 43. This cost-saving measure requires significant reorganisation and flexibility from the mechanic and engineering crews to maintain their high standards of on-track support, with Spa being the first time the slimmed-down team will operate in a competitive environment.
A challenging start to the week is therefore expected, with a combined 12 hours of testing on Monday and Tuesday for the Prologue before the race event begins with a single practice session on Thursday. A busy Friday sees two practice sessions before the starting grid for Saturday’s race is decided in a new qualifying format, when one driver per car will set a single flying lap.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing has an excellent record at Spa-Francorchamps, with five victories since its first WEC race there in 2013 and, despite a strong challenge expected from its competitors, the target is to start the season with maximum points.