Toyota Boss Shoots For Porsche’s Overall Nürburgring-Nordschleife Record
Rob Leupen, Toyota’s LMP1 Team Boss, reckons an unrestricted TS050 could smash the 919 Evo’s record of 5:19.55by Michael Fira, on
Toyota and Porsche did battle in the FIA’s World Endurance Championship between 2014 and 2017 when Porsche abruptly decided to pull the plug on its LMP1 program as the whole VAG Group was looking at ways to reduce costs post-Dieselgate. Shortly thereafter, Porsche unveiled the 919 Evo, an unrestricted version of the company’s Le Mans-winning car that went on to better Porsche’s very own record around the Northern Loop of the Nürburgring circuit. Now, Porsche’s old rival, who’s still in the FIA WEC and has won Le Mans two times on the trot already reckons it could better the 919 Evo’s record around the Nordschleife through the voice of Rob Leupen, the LMP1 Team Boss. The sad part is that Toyota isn’t committing to a record attempt just yet.
We’re all for an LMP1 war of supremacy on the Nordschleife
When Porsche unveiled the 919 Evo and announced it would begin a ’World Tour’ that would see it run at the Rennsport Reunion at the Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and others, we knew we were in for a treat. Then Porsche went to Spa-Francorchamps and shattered the 2017 Belgian Grand Prix pole lap (a 1:42.553 time by Lewis Hamilton) with a 1:41.770 time, we really got curious. Then we heard Porsche’s testing the Evo (that put out 1,160 horsepower thanks to an unhinged ICE and electric system) at the Nürburgring and the writing was on the wall. Sure enough, Porsche followed suit with a 5:19.55 around the legendary 12.94-mile track with Timo Bernhard behind the wheel.
That time obliterated Stefan Bellof's record from the practice session for the 1983 Nurburgring 1,000-kilometer - a 6:11.10 - and firmly established the 919 Evo as the 'King of the Ring'.
The Volkswagen came with a modified I.D. R and reeled in the second-fastest lap ever (and the fastest EV lap ever) despite the car’s obvious lack of top speed. We reckoned at the time that it wasn’t as big of a deal as VW wanted you to believe it was and Toyota seems to be on the same page. The Head of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s LMP1 operation, Rob Leupen, is of the opinion that a TS050 with the kind of modifications that Porsche made to the 919 to come up with the Evo could go below 5:19 on the Nordschleife with ease.
|Volkswagen ID R||6:05.336|
|McLaren P1 LM||6:43.2|
|Lamborghini Aventador SVJ||6:44.97|
|NextEV Nio EP9||6:45.90|
|Porsche 911 GT2 RS||6:47.3|
|Radical SR8 LM||6:48|
|Lamborghini Huracan Performante||6:52.01|
|Porsche 918 Spyder||6:57|
|Lamborghini Aventador SV||6:59.73|
|Nissan GT-R Nismo||7:08.68|
|Mercedes-AMG GT R||7:10.92|
While this may seem like a ludicrous claim considering that Porsche’s 919 Evo is quite the machine, let’s not forget that Toyota’s TS050’s got two extra years under its belt in competition compared to the final iteration of the 919 and it will also race in the 2019-2020 FIA WEC season. That means it’s gone through no less than four seasons of competition by the time it’ll be retired after the 2020 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (which it will most likely win). The by-product of all this development is a more sound base for an Evo-like extreme version than what Porsche had - granted, Porsche had been working on the same 919 base since entering the FIA WEC in 2014 but, in fairness, the name was the only thing that didn’t change as the car itself suffered numerous revisions. But, to see what Toyota would have to fight against, let’s take a closer look at the 2018 Porsche 919 Evo once again.
The prototype Porsche to end all prototype Porsches
Porsche returned to top-flight sports car racing in 2014, 16 years after scoring its last overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the 911 GT1-98 that scored a double after both Mercedes-Benz and Toyota faltered while the purpose-built prototypes proved even more fragile.
The return of Porsche in 2014 was favored by a rule set that put technology and economy at the forefront as the manufacturers competing in the LMP1 category all had to build hybrid machines (with up to 8 MJ of hybrid power that could be deployed during each lap and that would later be charged back up and stored in the battery via an F1-like KERS system).
While at first uncompetitive, the 919 proved reliable from the very beginning as it hurdled along to a third-place finish at Le Mans in its first outing. The signs were there and, by 2015, Porsche was back on winning ways and, with (more than just) a bit of ’help’ from arch-rival Toyota, Porsche’s tally of overall wins at Circuit de la Sarthe went from 16 to 19 before the program was canned at the end of 2017 when Weissach decided to focus on Formula E instead, while enlarging its GT racing footprint (if you saw this year’s 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps as well as the dominance in GTE competition on both sides of the Atlantic you’ll know the Germans know what they’re doing). So, why does the 919 Evo exist?
Well, Porsche likes to put out a wacky racer now and again, to stun the crowds, grow its fanbase and prove to us - the crowd that’s not really enamoured with the Cayenne - that all the money from the SUVs and the luxury sedans do actually go, in part, into making better and more insane sports cars. The same goes for both the 919 Evo and the modern 935.
“It was kind of an engineer’s dream come true for us”, Stephen Mitas, Chief Race Engineer on the LMP1 program admitted. “Having developed, improved and raced the car for four years, the guys had a very close relationship to it. We all knew, no matter how successful the 919 Hybrid was, it could never show its full abilities. Actually, even the Evo version doesn’t fully exploit the technical potential. This time we were not limited by regulations but resources," he underlined.
So, what did they do? For starters, it was decided that the chassis would be kept unchained but that the shape of the bodywork would be altered to increase downforce. As such, the nosecone was flattened with more curvaceous wings and a much larger splitter that protrudes forward a lot more than the FIA WEC’s rulebook would ever allow. In much the same way, the rear wing is wider and extends far beyond the trailing edge of the rear wings which were also remodeled along with the much bigger rear diffuser.
In all, the 919 Evo produces 52% more downforce than the 2017 Porsche 919.
The rear wing and the splitter in the front are active, as the angle of attack of the flaps and winglets in the front, as well as the wing in the back, can change to either gain downforce or top speed, depending on where the car is on the track. As you know, active aerodynamics are banned but it helps to know that, if they were allowed, it’d make a huge difference: the 919 Evo is 66% up in terms of aero efficiency over the standard 919.
To cope with the extra loads caused by the added downforce, the 919 Evo was outfitted with a new, stiffer wishbone-type suspension (of the pushrod variety) featuring an updated version of Porsche’s pitch link design with actively controlled lockout system. The tires are also bespoke, made by Michelin specifically for this model. If you think this is ludicrous, well, you’re right but it’s for good reason as the 919 Evo directs to the wheels an enormous amount of oomph.
In FIA WEC-approved specification, the 2017 919 cranks out somewhere in the region of 900 horsepower.
The 919 Evo, on the other hand, develops 1,160 horsepower (720 horsepower from the V-4, 2.0-liter turbo ICE that is sent to the back wheels and 440 horsepower from the MGU-H in the front). This means that, when the driver deploys all of the power of the motor-generator unit, the 919 Evo is an AWD machine. ERS and KERS systems recover the energy and store it in a lithium-ion battery (that now stored 8.49 MJ/2.36 kWh of energy compared to just 6.37 MJ/1.77 kWh of energy in the standard battery which is why the power of the MGU-H increased).
Thanks to all that power, the 919 Evo reached 223 mph down the Kemmel Straight at Spa-Francorchamps on its record run. That’s in part because it’s also lighter by 86 pounds compared to the 1,929-pound 919 from 2016/17. The 919 slowed down via a brake-by-wire system with torque vectoring all around. The hydraulics were also looked on and improved. While the 919 Evo smashed the lap record at Spa (it was, though, later bettered during the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix weekend by Sebastien Vettel during the second qualifying session) and the Nordschleife, it was apparently unable to do so at Brands-Hatch or Laguna Seca (Porsche officially said it didn’t plan to claim the overall lap record at Laguna Seca but that’s hard to believe).
Will Toyota throw the gauntlet?
Now that we’re familiar with what Porsche created to take home those records and all of the media’s attention, let’s take a quick look at Toyota’s TS050. If you’ve been following the FIA WEC, you’ll know that the name has been around since 2016 when the TS050 replaced the TS040 prototype. The ’TS’ line of prototypes debuted in 1991 when the first Cologne-built Group C car, the TS010, was introduced to replace the line of prototypes built by Team Tom’s and Team SARD alternatively. Currently, TMG in Cologne builds all of the works-backed racing cars prepared by Toyota Gazoo Racing.
The TS050 will go on to compete in the 2019/2020 FIA WEC season but it’s a very different animal to the 2016-spec car. The current car with its 1,000 horsepower drivetrain (helped by an 8 MJ MGU-H system) dominated the 2018-2019 FIA WEC super-season despite being (on paper) pegged back to give the privateer LMP1 teams a chance.
In numbers, Toyota’s LMP1 rivals had 69% more fuel energy at the start of 2018 as well as being allowed to run almost 100 pounds lighter, with "the fuel flow limit restricted to 80kg/h for Toyota compared to 110kg/h for its competitors."
All of this - as well as further EoT (Equivalence of Technology) adjustments made throughout the season - was meaningless in actual competition with Toyota winning all but one round - the Six Hours of Silverstone in 2018 when both cars were disqualified over a ride height-related technical infringement. The Japanese manufacturer thus bagged two Le Mans wins, both with two-time F1 Driver’s World Champion Fernando Alonso in the winning car, trumping Mazda in the process who only won once all the way back in 1991 after Mercedes-Benz hit trouble late in the race.
What does this all mean? It means that the TS050 is an incredibly reliable car, the team performing a 21,000-kilometer endurance test prior to the start of the season. Also, the car already features many elements underneath the skin that are similar to those on the Porsche 919. For instance, it sports independent front and rear double-wishbone, pushrod suspension with torsion bars. The brakes feature carbon fiber rotors with mono-block light-alloy brake calipers assisted by a dual-circuit hydraulic system.
The engine is a 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 that puts out 490 horsepower with another 490 horsepower coming from the hybrid system in the front, meaning the Toyota is also AWD when all power is called upon.
What you should gather from all of this is that Toyota already runs an 8 MJ system and it cranks out more power than the +8 MJ system in the 919 Evo. The atmospherical engine is the one that’s lagging behind but that’s probably due to regulations (air restrictors and stuff like that) which means that achieving at least 1,160 horsepower should be a non-issue if Toyota wants to go for the records. Then there’s the question of aerodynamics. Toyota would need, like Porsche, to change the shape of the otherwise rather boxy TS050 if it wanted to make it go extra fast (remember, the Nurburgring’s Dottinger Hohe straight measures almost two miles) in a straight line.
Is all of this possible? Most certainly. If Porsche did it, Toyota could too, and with even more development done to the TS050, it’s probably an even better base for an unhinged version than the 919 was. However, it’s unlikely that this will happen. What we know is that Rob Leupen would like to do it but he admitted that "you need the budget and the strategy to do it, and right now we don’t have that yet." That’s because Toyota is busy testing the 2019-2020-spec TS050 that features a caved-in nose section that reveals more of the splitter, as well as sporting, enlarged winglets on the sides of the wings.
Toyota said recently that developing the last TS050 as well as its prototype-esque Hypercar racer for the 2020-2021 FIA WEC season, the first that will feature Hypercars instead of LMP1 cars at the top of the pile, is putting extra pressure on TMG and the whole Toyota Gazoo Racing outfit. We understand that refers both to manpower and logistics as well as funds.
"Everyone is in trouble because of the schedule, but we are in a slightly better situation because at least we know which kind of technology we want to use. We will try to use as much as possible from the current car, but the regulations are significantly different, so we have to somehow depart from this car," said Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s Technical Director. He added that "it’s crazy because everything is late. We are shortcutting a lot of things," which he hopes won’t end up damaging the current P1 car’s chances of victory. "hopefully we will not have any reliability issues on this [LMP1] car because our staff has no team to engineer it [because all of the development team focuses on the Hypercar]."
In other words, not even a giant like Toyota can quite cope with two projects as big as these ones.
Adding a third one on its plate - the Porsche-killing super-P1 car - would certainly be too much so all we can do is wait until the 2020 season is over and then we may try and ask Toyota very nicely to modify the retired TS050 (on the non-racing weekends, of course!) while competing with the Hypercar...yeah, slim chances, we know, but you never know when we’ll get a surprise from the Japanese automaker - maybe it’ll try to smash the record with the GR Super Sports Hypercar!