Toyota and Le Mans - A 35 year Relationship

Decades of continuous improvement secured two back-to-back Le Mans wins in 2018 and 2019.

Decades of perseverance and the desire to succeed finally paid off for Toyota when they won back-to-back Le Mans titles in 2018 and 2019. The success was worth the wait, but it didn’t come easily as we look back at their Le Mans journey.

A Challenging Start

Although Toyota’s first few years competing in Le Mans was tough, their persistence and determination did start to reap some rewards in the end.

Their first Le Mans race in 1985 was considered relatively successful, as their No36 car – the TOM’s 85C - crossed the line in 12th position. However it was the next couple of years that proved a challenge, one being the 1986 Circuit de la Sarthe (a tough race) which saw both of their cars retire from the race due to reliability issues. The other was the 1987 Le Mans when their reliability issues once again forced both of their cars to retire from the race.

1988 saw the Toyota entries bounce back as both of their Toyota 88C cars finished in 12th and 15th place.

Securing a Podium Finish

Toyota took the momentum from their consistency in the late 1980s to finish in sixth place at the 1990 Le Mans with the Toyota 90C-V. They took this even further when the FIA Group C category allowed high-tech sports cars to enter the competition. This really changed the game for Toyota, not only because the Formula 1-style V10 engines were much more powerful, but because the TS010 (designed by Tony Southgate) that Toyota produced was one of the fastest cars on the Le Mans track at the time.

Fast forward to the 1992 Le Mans, when we finally got to see the TS010 models in action. Three of the models were competing in the race and they really did perform, securing a long awaited podium finish – securing second place. Surprisingly, although Toyota managed to take first place at Le Mans the following year, they never actually won the race with the T010 model. This is even more surprising because the car broke its own lap record in 1992 and 1993.

Sadly, the success in Group C was not going to last as it was disbanded in 1994.

After a couple of years working closely with Team Sard, Toyota decided to develop a new TS model with the hopes of finally taking first place. The TS020 was a stunning model and even quicker than the TS010, but once again the win eluded Toyota as the TS020 suffered from transmission issues in 1998 and an accident in 1999. Again, Toyota seemed to have the same problem, an astonishingly quick car in qualifying that didn’t quite make it on race day.

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A Le Mans Comeback?

Hoping that the third time is the charm, Toyota introduced the new TS030 Hybrid at the 2012 Le Mans. The Toyota team suffered further problems as one model crashed out while the other, which was actually leading the race, had technical issues. That being said, although the cars crashed out, their ability to perform as hybrids really started to bridge the gap between sustainable technologies and motorsport.

Toyota’s comeback didn’t quite get off to the start they wanted, but they learnt from 2012 and as a result their improvements to the TS030 hybrid secured second and fourth bring them back into title contention in following years.

Or so they thought.

Between 2013 and 2018 saw Toyota suffer from continuous regulation changes, wiring issues, technical problems, or simply unsatisfying sixth and eighth place finishes. All despite the fact that the evolved TS040 and TS050 were, like its predecessors, the fastest and most impressive hybrids in their category – so surely they were finally due a Le Mans win?

Finally

Toyota’s years of hard work, innovative hybrid technologies and ability to produce the quickest and most impressive cars on the Le Mans track secured the elusive result they desired most – a Le Mans win.

Dubbed by Toyota as the ‘super-season,’ their 20th and 21st entry into Le Mans achieved a top-two finish for the TS050 Hybrid in both 2018 and 2019. A great result.

Although the 2020 Le Mans schedule has been pushed back to September, Toyota Gazoo Racing are still eager to participate in the competition because of their commitment to making ever better cars.


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