Despite the well-documented delays in the full set of regulations for the new-for-2020 FIA WEC Le Mans Hypercar formula, Toyota Gazoo Racing is still on track to begin testing in late July.
Towards the end of last year, before the regulations were finalized, Toyota told RACER that its target was to get its GR Super Sports Hypercar on track in July, the month after the final race for its TS050 HYBRID at Le Mans in June. Both technical director Pascal Vasselon and managing director Rob Leupen are still confident that the project is on track to meet that target.
There are no margins for error, though, and no time to waste. Because of that, Vasselon told RACER that Toyota feels that the change to the start date of the 2020/21 WEC season — which has been pushed back to the end of August — is a hugely positive decision by the series organizers.
“I think everyone understood that timing was critical,” he explained. “We needed a bit of time before start of the season so yeah, this season calendar has taken into account the development of our cars by moving the Prologue to as close as September as possible. Having a gap between Silverstone and Monza is good management as well.
“The Prologue is essential to check FIA systems and equipment. Normally any issues we would encounter at a test like that could be solved in hours, as we hope to have solved critical issues before we get there.”
Right now, Toyota is still committed to having two cars on the grid for the opening round at Silverstone, which follows the pre-season test. But it will be tight and there will not be time to build two brand-new cars for the race and have separate test cars. Two chassis will be built initially. One will go testing in July and the other will be put through the FIA WEC homologation processes. Both of those will then race at Silverstone.
“We can see at the moment that still some elements of the regulations have not been finalized — key elements like the aero regulations are signed off, but only a month ago,” he explained. “So in many areas of the car we are running late, not because we are delayed by other programs, just because the regulations were not fully finalized. We are pushing.
“From our side, we are finishing the monocoque and suspension because it was not too affected by his latest regulation modifications. So, we are on a reasonable schedule from suspension side. The monocoque is borderline though and bodywork is really critical, because of the delay of even more critical electric and electronic items where we still have a few clarifications pending.
“We believe that (getting cars ready for July) is feasible, but critical as well. This is the shortest development cycle we have ever had to get a race car of this level ready for the track.
“We have already planned all the testing that will begin with the rollout in July. Before track testing we will use our usual processes which consist of testing elements of hardware in isolation on rigs. We will use our model based process to speed up the development we are doing so when we hit the track we can immediately go testing.”
Toyota, which has eight years of LMP1 experience under its belt, is unsurprisingly ahead of its main competitors for Season 1 of Le Mans Hypercar: Aston Martin and Glickenhaus. So just how are things progressing in the other camps?
Aston Martin has remained quiet since announcing the program last year. Currently, Aston Martin tells RACER, progress is being made and that the program to develop its race-going Valkyrie is on track. However, details are still scarce, the British marque waiting until the time is right to provide an update on the status and targets in the development of its new challenger.
With titles to fight for in GTE Pro and Am in the current WEC season and the Valkyrie road car now being put through its paces ahead of customer deliveries, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes in addition to its incoming top-class WEC effort.
American Jim Glickenhaus, meanwhile, is pushing hard to get his company’s SCG 007, which will be co-branded with an unannounced engine supplier, ready for the start of the season and out testing at the same time as Toyota will begin running its car. However, it remains to be seen whether or not it will make Silverstone. It is worth noting that the second round of the season at Monza is very close to where the Glickenhaus Hypercar program is based in Podium, just west of Milan. With no flyaway events until November, the trip to Italy could prove to be a huge benefit to Glickenhaus if it is capable of racing shortly after the opener.
“We are building the car,” Glickenhaus said on the Marshall Pruett Podcast. “We have begun a massive engineering design process and engines running on dynos in a matter of weeks.
“We have the chassis layout, we have a gearbox sourced and have made a deal with a famous aerodynamic wind tunnel company to begin the tweaking of our designs. We are working with our engine manufacturer on the look of the car as it will have design cues from their product.
“Our goal is to have the car on the ground in early July and begin testing it. We want to see how quickly we can join the WEC. Whether we can make the first WEC race, I’m not sure.”
So it’s full-steam ahead for the three Season 1 contenders. There will be hugely trying times for everyone working on the development of a Le Mans Hypercar, as time is ticking.
In Cologne, despite it being just months until testing is scheduled to begin, there is no sign of the Toyota’s program’s existence when RACER passed through the TMG chassis workshop that houses the TS050s.
At present there are three TS050 spare tubs on the shop floor, one of which will only come into use should a third one be needed at Le Mans in 2020. The closest things to a Le Mans Hypercar in the room are the road-going Lexus LFAs, that are serviced by TMG and worked on just a feet away from the TS050s.
“We need to be there at Silverstone, with a car that needs to run because of the experience we have,” Leupen, TMG’s managing director, told RACER. “It’s a difficult process to get there and it’s been hard to get to where we are now.
“I don’t think we look at this like ‘we are the Audi’: We know we are able to build a good car and we know that Aston Martin will give us a hard task. We should be the benchmark, but we should be humble. Aston Martin will not be underestimated.”