2021 is the first year of the World Endurance Championship's Hypercar spec that's eligible to race in its top class, and reigning overall 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Toyota Gazoo Racing unveiled their new Hypercar today. This is the 2021 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, and it's a rad 670-horsepower beast.
Toyota says it used technology it developed in its outgoing TS050 Hybrid Le Mans racer to go into this brand-new Hypercar, which in turn will be the basis for a road-going hypercar. Series regulations prevent the racing version from making as much power as its street-legal counterpart, limiting the GR010 Hybrid to just 500 kW (or 671 horsepower/680 PS).
How the four-wheel-drive GR010 Hybrid limits things to 671 hp is pretty clever. Its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 internal combustion engine is capable of making all 671 hp to the rear wheels, but the car also has a 268-hp electric motor generator unit on the front axle. To keep it under the 671 hp cap, the GR101 Hybrid's electronics system reduces engine power as the amount of hybrid power increases. So, if the hybrid system pulls a Nissan and quits, they've at least still got the full 671 hp from the V6.
Developing the new car was an 18-month joint effort between Toyota's WEC team headquarters in Cologne, Germany, and Toyota's hybrid experts in Higashi-Fuji, Japan.
Toyota has been dominating the WEC's top class in the past few years, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the past three races in a row and winning the WEC LMP1-class championship for the past two seasons. Problem is, they haven't had much competition after Porsche and Audi withdrew their hybrid LMP1 cars, and everyone's hoping that the introduction of the Hypercar class will change that.
The Hypercar spec is a bit of a step back from the pricey engineering wonderland that was the outgoing LMP1 spec, with a big focus on cost-cutting in order to attract more participants and even the playing field.
While many of those are waiting to enter when the also-Hypercar-eligible and importantly, also-IMSA-eligible LMDh spec starts up, that across-the-board cost-cutting seems to have worked, even if the first season will have a smaller field. Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus and ByKolles are competing in the first season with their own Hypercars, plus Alpine running a grandfathered-in LMP1 in the same class with some performance changes to keep things competitive. Toyota isn't too happy about that grandfathered-in car, but it isn't the first time WEC allowed a grandfathered-in but modified spec when there's a major rules change, as Sportscar365 notes. WEC plans to use a balance-of-performance system to try and keep all of the cars somewhat competitive with each other.
That also means that the GR010 Hybrid has some significant changes that will result in it being an estimated 10 seconds slower around Le Mans' Circuit de la Sarthe than the TS050 Hybrid. (Hey, if that means closer racing, I'm for it.) The GR010 Hybrid also has 32% less power and is 357 pounds heavier than the TS050 Hybrid, and is bigger all around, too: 10 inches longer, 4 inches wider and 4 inches taller.
This is also the first year Toyota won't have a motor generator unit on its rear axle, as only the front-axle MGU is allowed. Thus, the car has a starter motor just like a regular internal-combustion road car, plus fully hydraulic rear brakes.
Hypercars are also only allowed one set of homologated bodywork in the new technical regulations, with only one adjustable aerodynamic device, meaning that there won't be different bodywork for high- and low-downforce tracks as there was in the recent past.
This is Toyota's ninth season in WEC, and they're keeping their full driver line-up from the 2019-2020 season. Season champs Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López will share the No. 7 car, while Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley will drive the No. 8 car. Nyck de Vries is also continuing as the team's test and reserve driver.
For now, this season is scheduled to kick off with the 1000 Miles of Sebring on March 19, although as The Week In Sports Cars notes, current conditions in regards to international travel mean it's unlikely for WEC to keep that date. The Week in Sports Cars reports that an announcement is expected Monday regarding changes to WEC's schedule.
[H/T Ryan Terpstra on the likely incoming schedule changes!]
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