The battle of the hybrid racing cars in World Endurance Racing took an interesting turn this weekend when Toyota's TS030 Hybrid won the fifth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The TS030 Hybrid uses a petrol 3.4 litre V8 engine and a Nisshinbo 500 kJ supercapacitor energy recovery unit which only feeds energy to the rear wheels via a Nippondenso drive unit, and was not expected to seriously challenge the Audi R18 e-tron quattro for some time – partially due to the long term dominance of the Audi marque in this form of racing, and partially because the whole Toyota car and team is new and endurance racing is cruel to the untested.
Audi's outstanding record in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, arguably the most important single race on the planet, is a measure of the challenge faced by Toyota in tackling endurance racing – Audi has won 11 of the last 13 Le Mans 24 Hour events, with much of its technology, engines and regular drivers used by the winning Bentley in 2003 when it did not field an official team.
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro uses a turbocharged 3.7 liter V6 diesel engine with a 500 kJ electric flywheel accumulator to store recovered energy and feed it to the front wheels, hence offering four-wheel-drive.
Many people believed the rear-wheel-drive Toyota system would prove to be inferior to the four-wheel-drive Audi design, but the speed of the TS030 has been very impressive, particularly in its second race at Silverstone on August 24 where it finished second to the Audi e-tron quattro but set the fastest lap of the event and had a higher top speed than the Audi.
At Interlagos the Toyota took pole by a whopping 0.784 second margin in the hands of former Peugeot pilot Alexander Wurz and led unchallenged for most of the first hour.
Both Audis were capable of going longer on a full fuel tank, so when the Toyota pitted first, both took a turn in the lead during the first round of pit stops.
By the one hour mark of the six hour event, the Toyota had regained the lead and was not to lose it again, thanks to a faster race pace and some good fortune during a deployment of the two pace cars system where the Toyota found itself behind the first pace car with the Audis behind the second pace car.
From there, the TS030 of Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre slowly built a winning margin of just over a minute before the chequered flag fell, and with three races gone, its speed is evident, having led every race in which it has competed.
The "Toyota Hybrid System - Racing" development project is now in its sixth year, and the race was a personal triumph for Hisatake Murata, who has headed the project since its inception and is now Hybrid Project Leader at Toyota Racing.
The project took its first win in July 2007 when a Toyota Supra became the first hybrid car to win a race at the Tokachi 24 Hour event in Japan that year. An early version of the TS030 supercapacitor hybrid system was used in the Supra.
The rapidly developing Audi-Toyota rivalry will be played out once more in Six Hours of Bahrain on September 29.