Race to road: Toyota Gazoo Racing's self-charging hybrids
With Toyota Gazoo Racing taking triple crown at the world’s greatest endurance race, we decode the links between the race and road programs of Toyota’s hybrid technology
September 20, 2020. It's a bright and sunny day at Le Mans and the Toyota TS050 Hybrid is blasting around the Circuit de la Sarthe, maxing out at over 330kmph at the end of the legendary Mulsanne Straight. The conditions are vastly different from the year before. It’s only the second time in the history of the sport that the race was held at a later date than scheduled — the first delay was due to the civil unrest in France in 1968 and this year, COVID-19 has had its influence on all fields, including motorsports, with some of our favourite tracks staying shut for the longest time ever. The crowds around the 13.5km racetrack are absent but that hasn’t deterred Toyota. With two victories in 2018 and 2019 already under its belt the TS050 Hybrid stayed fast and troublefree to take the chequered flag for a ‘three-peat’ or a hattrick as we’d say in cricketing parlance. And that’s the thing about Toyota. Once committed to a sporting category, they stay committed. And once committed to a technology, they stay committed. Manufacturers have come and gone at the Le Mans 24 Hours but Toyota have stayed the course and not let the fans down. Faced with competition from diesels Toyota kept the faith with their petrol-hybrid technology and the results are now there for all to see and admire - Toyota forever enshrining themselves in the history books by taking the last victory of the current LMP1 category rules, with the petrol-hybrid. Victory at the Le Mans 24 hours have confirmed the prowess of TS050 Hybrid’s powertrain and also its reliability and with Toyota firmly in the Race On Sunday, Sell on Monday camp, that can only mean good things for us as Toyota Gazoo Racing team’s motorsport learnings go into making our road cars faster, more efficient, more reliable and of course more enthusiastic.
Let’s dive into the technology that makes the TS050 an engineering tour de force. A direct successor to the TS030 and the TS040 that raced in previous iterations of the World Endurance Championship (2012-2015), its technological evolution is a reflection of what modern roads cars are aiming for — more power, better efficiency and of course unimpeachable reliability to withstands 24 hours of flat-out racing. While its predecessors were powered by 3.4- and 3.7-litre naturally aspirated engines, the TS050 transitioned towards turbo-charging, a solution that retains high power figures through forced induction while also improving fuel economy. Keeping with trends it has been downsized to 2.4-litres, Toyota squeezing in two turbos into the TS050’s powertrain to help it achieve similar power as the larger engines, defying that myth that there’s no replacement for displacement. The twin-turbo direct injection V6 petrol engine is paired to the THS-R powertrain (Toyota Hybrid System-Racing), both of which are developed by Gazoo Racing’s Motor Sport Unit Development Division at Higashi-Fuji Technical Centre in Japan. Interestingly, it is the same facility where Toyota does research and development for its road cars, ensuring all the racing R&D transfers to road cars without delay. The combined power outputs of the racing powertrain are colossal, with both the ICE and the two e-motors churning an identical 493bhp each, combining for 986bhp while working in tandem.
Le Mans racing also places a lot of emphasis on fuel economy, a thirsty engine has to stop more often for fuel and those losing positions on the racing track. The new generation turbo engine with direct petrol injection is better suited to the LMP1 regulations which limit fuel flow to the engine, and provides opportunity to continue with the technology transfer to road cars making them more efficient. The front and rear motorgenerators recover energy under braking, storing it in a high-powered lithium-ion battery and releasing it on demand for overtaking or at the exit of corners for maximum drive. Toyota is also known for its extensive testing program. Before the TS050 was unveiled, the Gazoo Racing team tested it for over 22,000km across different race tracks, meticulously crafting it to perfection using robust components and intelligent packaging to keep the weight in check. It comes as no surprise that the same car, with periodic upgrades, won the World Endurance Championship three years in a row. But motorsport technology doesn’t isolation. It often trickles down to the cars you and I drive on the road.
On the roads
Toyota has been advocating hybrid technology on the roads for decades, even before the TS050 hit the track! Its focus has been on reducing carbon emissions with clean technology, and hybrids have been front and centre. India is no stranger to Toyota’s hybrids. Currently, the Camry Hybrid and the Vellfire Hybrid champion this technology but it was first introduced way back in 2010 with the Prius. Back then, Toyota India reinforced its commitment to begin offering ecofriendly car technology in India. The Camry Hybrid’s drivetrain has direct links to the racecars. Unlike the TS050, it’s naturally aspirated as turbos do not make sense for the sort of car the Camry Hybrid is. The self-charging hybrid system though, is very similar. Powered by a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engine and an 88kW (118bhp) PMSM electric motor that is fed by a nickel-metal hydride battery, the powertrain is designed to deliver a smooth, almost unnoticeable, synergy between the two power sources.
When the engine is running, it charges the battery via the generator. The battery obviously powers the car’s electricals, but also boosts efficiency and performance by taking the load off the engine at cruising speeds to save fuel, while filling in torque under hard acceleration to boost performance. In slow-moving traffic, the Camry Hybrid cuts out the petrol engine and drives purely on electric power for zero-emissions motoring. The powertrain also packs a power split device that helps seamlessly switch between ICE and electric power. A similar technology is packed into the Vellfire luxury MPV albeit with the addition of a secondary e-motor mounted on the rear axle that gives it all wheel-drive prowess. What kind of results are reflected in the real world, in actual driving conditions? Well, a Camry Hybrid owner saves two tonnes of CO2 annually and testing in Indian conditions have revealed that for up to 60 per cent of the time it runs on electric power, which means for 60 per cent of the time it is a zero-emissions vehicle. Add to this the quality, durability and reliability (QDR) in India established by the likes of the Qualis, Innova and Innova Crysta and you’re left with cars that will run for lakhs of kilometres without a hitch.
With 15 million Toyota hybrids sold globally, the company has helped save over 120 million tonnes of CO2, aided by the broadest portfolio of 44 electrified cars that are currently on sale across various global markets. Some of these include the global bestseller that is the Toyota Prius and also the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SUV that enthusiasts in India have been clamouring for. Its self-charging hybrid powertrain is identical to that of the Vellfire, with a 2.5-litre engine mated to two electric motors, one on each axle, producing a combined output of well over 200 horses, promising exciting performance and unparalleled fuel efficiency. For better grip in low traction situations, the RAV4 Hybrid also packs electronic on-demand AWD. The initial three shipments of the Vellfire Hybrid, an extremely niche luxury-MPV, were sold out at launch itself, so the response to an SUV would probably be extremely good.
Hybrids are the ideal bridge between pure ICE and EVs, maintaining the current automotive eco-system and delivering an immediate reduction in fuel import bills and tailpipe emissions, while parallely getting the industry ready for the challenges of the future. Hybrids also lay groundwork for higher levels of electrification in the future and that means Toyota India is on the right trajectory to meet stricter emission norms of the future. That said, all the hybrid and efficiency talk does not diminish the enthusiastic appeal of Toyota road cars. To amplify that, there is something very exciting in the pipeline. Toyota Gazoo Racing recently revealed their upcoming road-going hybrid hypercar, the GR Super Sports that is powered by an updated version of the Le Mans winning hybrid powertrain. As per the new 2021 rules, there will be a road version homologated for race use and the latter will race in the new LM Hypercar class in the next season of WEC. “‘Rather than developing production cars into sports cars, we aim to work out how to incorporate the knowhow gained from racing and rallying into production cars. This is how sporting competition contributes to Toyota Gazoo Racing’s efforts to make ever-better road cars” said Shigeki Tomoyama, president, Toyota Gazoo Racing. When petrol runs in the veins of the boss himself, there’s every reason for us folks to be enormously excited by the upcoming road cars. With Toyota leading the charge with hybrid technology, exciting times lie ahead.
Photographs by: evo India and Toyota Global