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Toyota and the story of a dream: Winning Le Mans with a hybrid

Toyota took on a challenge in 1994 that, at that time, seemed like a utopia: to create a car that is respectful with the environment, with lower fuel consumption and emissions, but without giving up the power, comfort and safety required of a car. In 1997 the first generation of the Prius was born, which, with its revolutionary technology, became the first mass-production hybrid in automotive history.

Hybrid technology started to catch on and Toyota wanted to prove its efficiency and reliability in racing too. The first signs of this new adventure came in 2005, when Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) reported that "it was considered an activity in competition with a hybrid powertrain."

The resistance tests were the ideal environment for this project, because they are the ones that best test the robustness and reliability of a new technology; And because in them, fuel consumption is of vital importance. But there was a big stumbling block: being such a novel technology, there were no hybrid racing cars, no competitions or categories designed for them or that allowed their participation. For this reason, Toyota started by designing a very versatile hybrid system, called Toyota Hybrid System - Racing (THS-R), that could be adapted to different cars and disciplines. Its operating philosophy was very simple: recover energy when braking, to use it for acceleration, supporting the main combustion engine with an electric motor.

Step by step, the THS-R hybrid technology evolved until it reached the current forefront, where all the years of research and development have allowed the greatest advances in hybrid technology to change direction and return to the original path of competition. on the street. Advances in hybrid technology will provide direct benefit to Toyota customers on the road, and combine with the knowledge gained by engine engineers to create ever-better vehicles for the future.

2006: LEXUS GS 450H THS-R
The first model with a hybrid system specifically developed for competition. Starting from a GS450h, a capacitor was attached to it to make possible the fast charge and discharge cycles that occur in competition, impossible with the nickel metal hydride battery of that time. It raced in the Tokachi 24 in July 2006 and finished 17th out of 33 competitors, a remarkable result for a virtually experimental and revolutionary technology vehicle.

The world's first hybrid car to win a race. It was in the 24 Hours of Tokachi, on July 16, 2007. The Supra HV-R completed 616 laps on a 5,091 km circuit, 19 laps more than the second classified. It was based on the Supra Super GT, with a propulsion system that consisted of a V8 gasoline engine of 4,5 l and 480 hp, an electric motor in the rear axle and two others, one in each front wheel. With all-wheel drive and a combined output of over 700 hp, it was a true beast of the track.

Toyota decides to return to the ultimate endurance competition in 2012, designing an impressive prototype with hybrid technology, the first in the WEC World Endurance Championship. In his debut season, he managed to win three of the six championship races, displaying surprising competitiveness. The energy recovery system consisted of an MGU unit on the rear axle that powered a super condenser. The hybrid powertrain consisted of a 8-liter naturally aspirated V3,4 engine. with 530 hp, and a 300 hp electric motor.

The 2013 season was Toyota's first full season in the WEC. The car underwent modifications to the frame to make it more resistant in eventual impacts and the monocoque was simplified, accepting only a rear hybrid system (in the 2012 prototype, it could also be front). The powertrain evolved to improve performance and reliability. The Toyota GAZOO Racing team achieved four podiums and two championship victories.

2014/2015: TOYOTA TS040 HYBRID
A radical evolution from the TS030 HYBRID. The energy recovery system now consists of two MGU units with their own super condenser, one on each axis. Therefore, when the front MGU acted as the engine, the TS040 HYBRID operated as an all-wheel drive and delivered a power of up to 1.000 hp. The power increased by 18 percent compared to the TS030 HYBRID although consumption was 25 percent lower, thanks to the new hybrid system that is more efficient and more capable of recovering energy. The naturally aspirated V8 engine had 3,7 liters of displacement (520 hp) and the gearbox, seven speeds.

Five victories in eight races and at least one car on the podium in all of them saw Toyota Racing conquer the World Endurance Championship, in a historic 2014 season. It was the first time that a Japanese manufacturer had won the World Endurance Championship and put The end of Toyota's 15-year wait for a world title, since winning the 1999 World Rally Championship.

2016/2017: TOYOTA TS050 HYBRID
For 2016 the hybrid system of the TS050 HYBRID was completely transformed in relation to the TS040 HYBRID to compete in the highest category of hybrids of the WEC, which allows to use up to 8 MJ (2,2 kWh) of electrical energy per lap. For this reason, the super capacitors are replaced by a lithium-ion battery, and the cooling and transmission systems are revised. In addition, the front MGU was repositioned to improve aerodynamics and suspension kinematics. The heat engine went from a naturally aspirated V8 to a very efficient 6-liter biturbo V2.4, with direct injection and 500 hp. The total power, with the electric motors, exceeded 1.000 CV.

The TS050 HYBRID's greater fuel efficiency over its rivals enabled it to complete 14 laps per shift, one more than its competitors. As a result, the Toyota GAZOO Racing team led the majority of the 24 2016 Hours of Le Mans, giving up victory with just five minutes remaining. In what should have been the penultimate lap of the race, an engine failure meant that Toyota could not register its name among the winners of this legendary race for the first time, in one of the cruelest race ends in the history of the car. sports motor racing.

With the clear goal of victory at Le Mans, the only thing that remains unchanged in the 2017 version of the TS050 HYBRID is the monocoque. Its hybrid system has an even more developed lithium-ion battery, and the MGU units are smaller and lighter. The V6 biturbo engine increases its performance thanks to a different design of the combustion chamber and an increase in compression ratio. To comply with current regulations this year, the front spliter is 15mm higher and the rear diffuser is narrower, which is expected to increase the lap time by several seconds. The TS050 HYBRID has won both World Endurance Championship races to date (Silverstone and Spa). The Toyota GAZOO Racing team is confident that the next one - Le Mans - will also be a success.





Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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