Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid: Threepeat and counting at Le Mans
The Toyota TS050 hybrid has now been around since 2016 and they recently walked away with their third Le Mans title on the trot. Let us look underneath the shell and understand why and how Toyota Gazoo racing pulled off this incredible feat.
The Toyota TS050 was first introduced in 2016 for the iconic 24 hours of Le Mans racing. The regulations back then, due to cost saving initiatives signed with Porsche and Audi, stated that the chassis would be valid only for two years. However, at the end of 2017, Audi and Porsche left the championship and Toyota saw no logic in pouring additional money into developing a new chassis. Today, five seasons later, the TS050 has undergone many changes with respect to aero and has undergone strict weight-loss program as well and still remains the car to beat. To make things simpler, let us break it down to three main reasons that make the car an absolute beast.
The TS050 Hybrid gets a 2.4-litre petrol turbo V6 along with an electric motor. The Hybrid powertrain which is called THS-R powertrain (Toyota Hybrid System-Racing) consists of a motor on the front and rear axles, as well as a high powered Toyota lithium-ion battery. With both of them combined, it gives the TS050 a total of an insane 986bhp of power. The ICE and the electric motors make 493bhp each.
The biggest challenge with Hybrid powertrains is the battery overheating. To keep them cool, there has to be a very complex cooling system in place to constantly keep these batteries from overheating. However, cooling systems also add considerably to the weight and compromise the aerodynamic efficiency as well. Ingeniously, Toyota has done away with the entire cooling system by simply focusing on the battery cells itself. The cells in the Toyota TS050 operate at a much higher temperature and have always continued to push that upper limit over the last 5 years. So doing away with the whole cooling system means that the cockpit now has normal fans and ventilation. Although it sounds too pedantic, the weight saved by doing this was phenomenal.
Another challenge with endurance racing is limiting the number of fuel stops, since this wastes precious time in the pits. Toyota has tackled this by limiting the fuel flow to the engine. So the drivers at Toyota are not only lifting earlier while approaching corners but are also increasing the duration of braking so that the hybrids recover as much energy as possible through their MGU-K (Motor Generation Unit-kinetic) units on each axle. While there are no major modifications to the engine in the 2020 season, several improvements have been made to decrease friction. But the 2020 Le Mans showed us that they’re still so much better than the rest of the grid.
Over the years, the various iterations of the TS050 hybrid has seen plenty of aerodynamic changes with an emphasis on reliability. The nose of the car has changed significantly and Toyota has even made the air intake smaller and has changed the location of the mirrors. Although the underpinnings and the chassis have remained largely the same, the way the air flows over the car has been worked upon extensively. The mirrors are now concealed behind the front wheels, almost out of sight when you look at the car from certain angles. This has reduced the drag and has cleaned up the airflow to the rear wing. The commitment the teams have to keep reducing drag and increase aero-efficiency is unbelievable! One may even argue that the location of the mirror now does not matter so much because rear view cameras are mandatory. The fact is, that the regulations also require a car to have the rear view mirrors and Toyota has done a brilliant job in keeping it usable as a mirror as well as helping with the aerodynamics of the car.
Coming to the front of the car, the car’s nose is now higher to increase the downforce. Ardent fans of Le Mans will know that the cars have been known get airborne occasionally. Everyone remembers Mark Webber’s and Peter Dumbreck’s horrific back-flip crashes in the Mercedes-Benz CLR back in 1999. Although we haven’t seen such incidents in the past few years, thanks to aerodynamic improvements, the chances of it happening are still real. Toyota TS050 hybrid sports a higher nose to maximise the downforce and almost negate the chances of the car lifting off the ground at high speeds. The car’s nose basically splits the air over and under the car improving aero-efficiency. The Air-intake of the car is also smaller now compared to what it was in the past few years. Changing the shape or size of the air box is especially challenging due to the unique way that a wind tunnel works but Toyota has worked on it over the last few years and have made sure to implement the right formula to complement the overall aerodynamics of the car.
Toyota’s undying pursuit of excellence through innovation
Every year the FIA does everything in its power to keep the grid as close as possible and make sure there is fair racing action at the same time. 2020 saw the introduction of Equivalence of Technology (EoT) which all teams had to comply with. This meant that the Toyota TS050 Hybrid had to now run at a minimum weight of 895kilograms, 7kilograms heavier than 2019. For any motorsport team, this is a challenge because they work round the clock to reduce the weight of the car as much as possible. Adding to this pressure, the weight of the non-hybrid rivals remains unchanged according to EoT. But Toyota was undeterred by this. They did what they do best: innovate. They met all regulations and won the 2020 Le Mans with a humongous lead of over 5 laps. In any racing format, that is beyond impressive. It is not just the challenge that EoT threw at them. Right from the inception of the TS050 constant improvement through innovation has been its focus. Be it improving the cooling of batteries by developing their battery cells or cleverly integrating the mirrors into the body to achieve better air flow, Toyota has always been ahead of the rest on that front.
All motorsport teams definitely strive to be the best version that they can be but there always has to be one that paves the way to the future. The future of motorsport is bound to lean heavily on Hybrid technology as it is way cleaner and more eco-friendly compared to the ICE units which are currently very popular across various forms of racing like F1, WRC and even Le Mans. At the same time, electric cars have also become huge and offer some proper racing entertainment. But it is inevitable that popular formats will switch over to hybrids in the coming years and when that happens, Toyota is already at the front of it. They have stuck to their hybrid formula over the years and have improved it so much that it has now trickled down to their road cars as well. For Toyota, it isn’t just about winning those races. They work on the philosophy of “building ever better cars” and that definitely shows. Looking at tech improving at such a rate, it is safe to say that motorsports in the future will be way faster and with Toyota Gazoo Racing at the reigns, it will definitely be that much more exciting.