Audi versus Toyota in battle of the hybrids at Le Mans

2012 Le Mans 24 Hours

Since 2006, victory at Le Mans has been the preserve of the turbodiesel racers.

This year the technological focus is on hybrid power, with both Audi and Toyota fielding races using sophisticated energy recovery systems.

But they’ll have to prove themselves against the best conventional technology has to offer as Audi are also running two of their R18 ultras, which took victory in last year’s thrillingly close race.

Also look out for three drivers who were on the F1 grid last year who are competing this year – along with a pair of Sky’s Formula 1 pundits.

Audi vs Toyota

Toyota TS030 hybrid, Le Mans, 2012

Last October Toyota finally confirmed they would be making their long-awaited return to Le Mans with a new hybrid racer.

For a few months we had the enticing prospect of a three-way content between major manufacturers at Le Mans. Sadly, in February, Peugeot made the shock announcement it was cancelling its Le Mans programme.

It’s a lot to expect of Toyota to be able to challenge Audi for honours in the first year with their new LMP1 car. Particularly following the major crash which destroyed the first of their prototypes in testing, forcing them to cancel their planned appearance at Spa.

The team have declared their aim to be the quickest of the hybrid cars. That’s ‘quickest’ not ‘most reliable’. This is a team that has learned the hard way how easy it is to lose a win at Le Mans – recall how close the GT-Ones came to success in 1999 before one was hit by a rival car and another suffered a race-ending puncture.

Toyota at least have extensive experience of racing with hybrid power, although not on on their TF109 in their final year in Formula 1. They began with the Lexus GS 450h used in 2006 and the following year won the Tokachi 24 hours with a hybrid Toyota Supra.

Several ex-Peugeot drivers have found a home at Toyota including Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz. Former F1 pilot Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima also feature in their line-up.

Audi’s track record at Le Mans is nothing short of formidable. Since 2000 – the year after Toyota last competed – they’ve won ten times, missing out on victory only twice.

Last year the team’s single remaining car prevailed after its two sister entries were destroyed in huge crashes. Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler came home to win by 13 seconds after a day of solid racing.

Audi vs Audi

Audi R18 etron quattro, Le Mans, 2012

Not for the first time at Le Mans, Audi are racing two substantially different cars. Their four-car assault includes two R18 ultras with turbodiesel engines and a pair of the new e-tron quattros which feature hybrid power and four-wheel-drive.

Audi’s all-star driver line-up of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello share one of the e-trons and last year’s race winners occupy the other hybrid.

Like Toyota, Audi also suffered a major testing crash involving one of their cars, and driver Timo Bernard was subsequently declared unfit to race. Marc Gene, who won the race with Peugeot in 2009, has taken his place alongside Romain Dumas and Loic Duval.

The second ultra is piloted by Mike Rockenfeller, Oliver Jarvis and Marco Bonanomi.

Radical DeltaWing racer

DeltaWing DW LM12, Le Mans, 2012

There’s one car in the field this year which you don’t need a spotters’ guide to see. The DeltaWing, being raced by Highcroft, was originally conceived as a potential replacement for the 2011 IndyCar, before the series opted for Dallara’s more conventional DW12.

The concept behind the DeltaWing was the radically reduced the frontal area of the car to allow high speed to be reached with a smaller engine capacity and less fuel. Power is supplied by a 300bhp 1.6-litre turbochanged Nissan engine.

Despite looking like racing’s answer to the Reliant Robin, it has a pair of narrow wheels at the front.

Some changes have been made from the original design created for IndyCar. The car is now based on a monocoque from an Aston Martin AMR-One. It’s also been shortened so it can fit in the pit boxes at the La Sarthe circuit.

The car will be driven by Marino Franchitti (brother of IndyCar racer Dario and cousin of Paul di Resta), Michael Krumm and Satoshi Motoyama. It has been given an entry under Le Mans ‘garage 56′ rules, which allow a 56th entry outside of the normal rules which will not be part of the official classification.

The team behind the entry hope it will achieve a performance level between the LMP1 and LMP2 categories. Having had little testing it will be a tremendous feat if this remarkable car makes it to the end of the race. Even if it doesn’t, it’s great to see there’s still room in some forms of motorsport for such radical thinking.

GT battles

Aston Martin Vantage GTE, 2012

The GT class will be contested by the class-leading Ferrari 458s and last year’s victorious Corvette squad. AF Corse has a trio of 458s, is co-running another with Michael Waltrip, and there are a further five of the Ferraris in the field.

Aston Martin return to the category after three years racing at the prototype level. That began with the attracted Lola coupe and ended last year with the disastrous AMR-Ones, both of which retired after four laps.

They can expect a much more competitive showing with their Vantage GTE. Darren Turner is retained from the squad which scored their last victory at this level in 2008, and is joined by Stefan Mucke and Adrian Fernandez.

F1 drivers in the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours

There will be 22 former F1 drivers in the field this year.

Among their number are a trio who raced in F1 last year: Nick Heidfeld, Sebastien Buemi and Karun Chandhok.

Driver Team # Car Class Notes
Allan McNish Audi 2 R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 Single season of F1 with Toyota in 2002, two Le Mans wins
Marc Gene Audi 3 R18 ultra LMP1 Ex-Minardi racer and Williams substitute, 2009 winner
Alexander Wurz Toyota 7 TS030 hybrid LMP1 Three podiums for Benetton, McLaren and Williams
Kazuki Nakajima Toyota 7 TS030 hybrid LMP1 Took Wurz’s place at Toyota-powered Williams
Anthony Davidson Toyota 8 TS030 hybrid LMP1 Former Super Aguri racer and Sky F1 pundit
Sebastien Buemi Toyota 8 TS030 hybrid LMP1 Red Bull reserve driver making first Le Mans start
Stephane Sarrazin Toyota 8 TS030 hybrid LMP1 One-time F1 racer with Minardi
Nick Heidfeld Rebellion 12 Lola-Toyota B12/60 LMP1 Raced for Mercedes at Le Mans in 1999 before F1 debut
Franck Montagny OAK 15 OAK-Pescarolo-Judd LMP1 Substituting for injured Guillaume Moreau
Jean-Christophe Boullion Pescarolo 16 Pescarolo-Judd 03 LMP1 Ex-Sauber driver piloting little-tested AMR-One-based car
Sebastien Bourdais Pescarolo 17 Dome-Judd S102.5 LMP1 Skipping IndyCar ovals to race in home town
David Brabham JRM 22 HPD ARX-03a LMP1 Son of triple-champion won Le Mans in 2009
Karun Chandhok JRM 22 HPD ARX-03a LMP1 Car only completed at first round, not unlike HRT in 2010
Stefan Johansson Gulf Racing Middle East 29 Lola-Nissan B12/80 LMP2 Lost “most second places without F1 win” record to Heidfeld
Jean-Denis Deletraz Gulf Racing Middle East 29 Lola-Nissan B12/80 LMP2 Mid-nineties F1 backmarker returns to prototype class
Martin Brundle Greaves 42 Zytek-Nissan Z11SN LMP2 Racer-turned-commentator sharing berth with son Alex
Shinji Nakano Boutsen Ginion 45 ORECA-Nissan 03 LMP2 Tested Dome’s unraced F1 car, last Le Mans start in 2008
Pedro Lamy Larbre Competition 50 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R GTE Pro Runner-up with Peugeot in LMP1 last year
Gianmaria Bruni AF Corse 51 Ferrari 458 Italia GTE Pro Minardi driver now a fixture in Ferrari’s GT squad
Giancarlo Fisichella AF Corse 51 Ferrari 458 Italia GTE Pro Ended lengthy F1 career at Ferrari, still driving for them
Olivier Beretta AF Corse 71 Ferrari 458 Italia GTE Pro Joined Ferrari from Corvette, raced F1 in 1994
Jan Magnussen Corvette 73 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R GTE Pro Failed to fulfil F3 promise in F1, son in Formula Renault 3.5

The Le Mans 24 Hours on F1 Fanatic Live

F1 Fanatic Live will be running throughout the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Join us on Saturday afternoon for the build-up and all 24 hours of the race.

Over to you

Will you be watching the Le Mans 24 Hours? Who are you supporting? Have your say in the comments.

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77 comments on Audi versus Toyota in battle of the hybrids at Le Mans

  1. dennis (@dennis) said on 14th June 2012, 9:30

    With all the KERS/Hybrid/AWD/DeltaWing mumbo jumbo I find the GT classes much more interesting than ever.
    I miss the late 90’s.

    • LosD (@losd) said on 14th June 2012, 10:40

      What are you talking about? Development makes this exciting. The GT classes are just boring cars. As usual.

      • dennis (@dennis) said on 14th June 2012, 13:43

        @losd and @bascb

        Exciting?
        It’s manufacturers throwing money at each other and the ACO making the rules ‘FOR’ these cars, so that the investment doesn’t go to hell.
        If different concepts were actually competing… But this year it’s Hybrid Diesel vs. Hybrid Diesel. And if the Hybrids have technical problems maybe an old Audi will win.
        This isn’t a manufacturer bringing a brilliant new idea to the table and beating everyone in a free race.
        The Delta Wing is a nice marketing joke. But if you were actually trying to include this into the current regulations you’d open Pandorra’s box of aerodynamics, or make it completely hopeless.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th June 2012, 14:20

          But isn’t it better to have them throwing money at each other ON TRACK, while also getting a bit of a winning spirit into their R&D teams?
          I don’t agree that the Delta Wing is just marketing, if it actually works, we might be seeing more of them next years. Its about efficiency, something that is pretty much at the core values of endurance racing.

          • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 14th June 2012, 22:03

            @dennis

            The Deltawing is far from a marketing ploy.

            And it’s not hybrid diesel vs. hybrid diesel. It’s hybrid diesel vs. hybrid petrol.

            If you are going to cut something down, it’s best to understand it first, if you want to be taken seriously.

          • matt90 (@matt90) said on 14th June 2012, 23:30

            Also, the ‘old Audi’ is actually an updated Audi Ultra. Even if it weren’t updated, ‘old’ isn’t right for a 1 year old prototype. The R8 won 5 times over a 6 year period- cars are expected to have long lifetime. It’s amazing that the R15 only competed for 2 years.

          • dennis (@dennis) said on 15th June 2012, 7:58

            @ bascb

            The Delta Wing does actually work. (at least in the short term so far). However it only works because it is allowed to run a massive diffusor, which the LMPs are not. If you force the Delta Wing to run a similar set of aerodynamic rules, the car will run on tyre grip alone.
            Is the Delta Wing better suited for Le Mans than the LMPs? We won’t know.

            And that’s my gripe with the current rules. Whatever is chique at the moment, may it be Diesel or now Hybrid is running a different set of rules.

            I’m missing the times when it was about racing.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th June 2012, 8:26

            @dennis, that does explain the attraction of the GT class for you then, I guess.

            I do get your point, and to an extent I agree with it, although I do like the prototypes to see what is possible, even though its not really a race on track, its a “race” or better a competition of technologies. In a way, the fact these are all running to different rules, and we see complications with getting a good performance balance between them, shows why F1 can’t have too much innovation, to keep it being a race on track!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th June 2012, 10:51

      For me its much the other way around @dennis These prototypes do exactly what one would expect from a prototype class, namely bring interesting concepts and test them in competition on track. The GT cars are nice, but I like them mainly for the drivers and liveries.

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 14th June 2012, 14:27

      the GT cars are like… standard cars which anyone could race if they had the money. It’s like customer teams.

      The prototypes are much more interesting. They bring something different every year and the KERS/Hybrid/AWD/DeltaWing thing isn’t really a bad thing at all. Le Mans should be a balance between experimentation, speed and reliability. The concepts are very interesting to look at.

      • Polishboy808 (@polishboy808) said on 14th June 2012, 19:34

        I disagree with that, the GT cars are not just cars that any customer can drive. I know a few drivers and customers that drive/own GTE cars, and they all tell me they’re a handful to drive. One guy came from 458 Challenges and bought a GTE Car, and said the Challenge was just a fast road car, the 458 GTE is a full racing monster that requires real skill to drive quickly. Not to mention the fact that particularly in the ALMS, GT cars provide most of the action, racing within a second of each other even after 12 hours, and providing full contact last lap battles that the Prototypes can’t offer.

        And sure, there are pay drivers, but you still have full-fledged factory teams that battle it out against each other, and some really fast customers (Corvette vs AF Corsa vs AMR vs Felbermayer vs Flying Lizard, hell, even Luxury Racng has a good line up of drivers and Labre Competition also offers a good challenge sometimes). So really, the GT cars are FAR more exciting to watch, even if they don’t bring fancy technology to the table.

        • KlBD (@klbd) said on 15th June 2012, 5:15

          You’d be surprised how prohibitively expensive running the latest spec GT cars has become. Some people are disappointed that there are only 9 GTE Pro entries this year but to be honest, this is actually a good thing. Of those cars, 8 of them are fielded by the most elite GT teams in endurance racing today, and you can bet all 8 will be fighting fiercely for class victory. And if you have ever seen an ALMS race in the past 4 years, despite the overall declining health of the series you would know that the GT cars there have never failed to showcase some of the most fearsome and closely fought racing anywhere in motorsport. Rather than watching Audi romp away with the victory seeing the tooth and nail battle for class victory I think is also a very exciting prospect!

          ;) of course, being a Corvette Racing fan doesn’t hurt either…

    • xeroxpt (@) said on 14th June 2012, 22:09

      I just like to watch and listen to these cars passing by the more prototypes the better GT racing has been a burden for the prototype category they are dangerously slower than the prototypes.

  2. Imre (@f1mre) said on 14th June 2012, 9:40

    Don’t you want to upload some more pictures? I’d be happy to get as many pictures from this weekend’s Le Mans 24H as from F1 weekends.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 14th June 2012, 9:54

    I think the Deltawing really needs is own series to compete in. Or at least its own category at Le Mans, for experimental cars to race against each other.

  4. That Aston Martin looks beautiful. Going to watch as much of the race as humanly possible over the weekend.

  5. michaeldobson13 (@michaeldobson13) said on 14th June 2012, 10:38

    Its worth noting that in the previous race in this series at Spa, Audi’s diesel has been faster than the 4wd hybrid, despite it being wet for the start of the race, and I think the Ultra was quickest in 1st qualifying.

    Also, does anyone know if there will be a highlights show sometime?

    • KlBD (@klbd) said on 15th June 2012, 5:19

      The performance difference between the two different R18s was primarily down to their differing levels of grip depending on weather/track conditions.

  6. BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th June 2012, 10:59

    Hm, Deltawing set quite good time with at 3m42.612s in first qualifying. Not bad, only a shame it broke down shortly after hitting a kerb too hard.

    Its still a bit off the 3:25-26 times set by the leading Audi’s, and the best Toyota at 3m27.191s though, but not bad for a first showing

    • Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 14th June 2012, 11:14

      Michael Krumm thought he could’ve got a 3:39 out of it, that would be in between the P1s and P2s.

      Wonder if they’re sticking to their promise not to go too fast down the straights…

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 14th June 2012, 12:14

      I believe they said that 3m45s was their target.

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 14th June 2012, 12:29

      They weren’t aiming for overall victory. Which is good. I think that if Garage 56 ever accepts an experimental entry that could challenge for overall victory, the top teams would throw a fit. It would completely detract from the real winner (as Garage 56 is not actually classified) and make a bit of a mockery of them and the race if the car that won on track didn’t win, and the car that actually won hadn’t done so on track.

      • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 14th June 2012, 23:08

        On the delta wing

        They weren’t aiming for overall victory. Which is good. I think that if Garage 56 ever accepts an experimental entry that could challenge for overall victory, the top teams would throw a fit. It would completely detract from the real winner (as Garage 56 is not actually classified) and make a bit of a mockery of them and the race if the car that won on track didn’t win, and the car that actually won hadn’t done so on track.

        matt90

        This has happened before, albeit at Sebring instead of Le Mans. For the 1965 race, officials allowed Hap Sharp and Jim Hall to race their innovative (i.e. non FIA compliant) Chaparral to take on Ferrari and Ford. Enzo Ferrari was furious and pulled his cars for the race, but Shelby stuck to the plan and watched as the Chaparral decimated his GT40’s in the rain soaked event.

        Despite Shelby’s drivers officially taking home the prototype honors, the 500 pound lighter Chaparral stole all the headlines.

        I feel the Deltawing crew, by limiting their car to 300HP is avoiding precisely such a fate. Give the Deltawing as much power as the LMP1 machines and it would surely contend for the overall victory, in the same way the Chaparral cars did at Sebring 47 years ago.

  7. Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 14th June 2012, 11:05

    It’s like a who’s who of F1 nearly men! Looking at this list, I wonder if a current F1 driver could race at Le Mans, as they did back in the day. If Martin Brundle can fit it in, why not?

    Maybe not a classic race up the front this year, I’m sure the P1 field will get stronger and more competitive than this as the WEC grows. Having two different Audis adds some interest, and I’ll be impressed if the Toyotas are still in among them at the end. Maybe the 4wd Audis will have an advantage on a cool track at night, certainly they will if it’s wet.

    Caught some of the evening qualifying yesterday, I’ll be following it over the weekend with Radio Le Mans and I’ll check out F1 Fanatic live, probably not for all 24 hours though! I’d like to see the old Kristensen/Capello/McNish combination win again, particularly if it’s Dindo’s last one. But I hope they have to fight for it…

  8. matt90 (@matt90) said on 14th June 2012, 11:19

    I miss the GT1 class. It has some fantastic cars, and gave greater variety to the GT class as a whole.

    Also I’m surprised there’s no mention here that Brundle has past form, being one of the Toyota drivers to suffer misfortune in 1999, and earning a win in 1990. I was surprised when something else I saw about the race took time to talk about Brundle, but only ever referred to him as a pundit.

  9. sato113 (@sato113) said on 14th June 2012, 11:50

    Can a LMP2 beat a LMP1? in a straight line at least?
    i’m just thinking about brundle’s chances.

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 14th June 2012, 11:53

      Not sure about a straight line, but for an LMP2 to score an overall win would require at least 6 LMP1 retirements or serious delays- probably more.

    • GeeMac (@geemac) said on 14th June 2012, 12:41

      No, the LMP2 cars use road car based engines the same as GT cars do, so they struggle to even pull away from GT cars on the straights nevermind keep up with the LMP1 guys. I think an LMP2 car has only achieved overalll victory in a Le Mans Series race (not Le Mans) once, at a slow and twisty track if I remember right. So chances of a LMP2 car acheiving overall victory are slim at best.

      • PJ (@pjtierney) said on 14th June 2012, 13:43

        The Porsche RS Spyder competed with the LMP1s for ALMS wins a few years ago. I think one of the Acura ARX cars did too.

      • KlBD (@klbd) said on 15th June 2012, 5:22

        The victory was by Strakka Racing at the Hungaroring with their HPD/Acura, arguably the best LMP2 car by far in the years before the rules change.

        Coincidentally Strakka Racing’s drivers have reported that due to the new engine regulations, the top speed difference between the LMP1 and LMP2 cars is actually not that great, as they are having a difficult time passing P2s on the straights compared to previous years.

  10. topdowntoedown (@topdowntoedown) said on 14th June 2012, 12:16

    Hopefully someone will tell Toyota which way around the track goes before Saturday? ;)

    Really looking forward to this year – Le Mans has always been about pushing the boundaries of what a car can do. First in pure endurance, then in speed, then technology. Wish I was there… suddenly it’s four years since I went and I miss it!

  11. andae23 (@andae23) said on 14th June 2012, 12:20

    I don’t think it’s realistic to consider this as a battle between Audi and Toyota just jet. You may compare it to Caterham, Marussia and HRT in F1: you can’t expect them to be up there fighting for a win overnight. That being said, they did show some reasonable pace during Q1 with a 4th and 6th place, ±1.5s of the pace (compare that to the 0.3s difference between Audi and Peugeot last year).

    The really interesting battle will be between the diesel and hybrid Audis. It will be great for the sport if the e-tron cars will win this year’s 24hrs. Not that I think it will solve climate problems or so, but at least it will give a good signal. I’m already hoarding a lot of coffee for the weekend!

  12. f1tooslownowadays said on 14th June 2012, 12:25

    Is the 24 hours of Le mans broadcast anywhere?

    Racing is the only thing I’d want to watch for 24 hours straight (admittedly I wouldn’t totally engrossed throughout it all, I would need food, drink, sex and sleep in that period)

    • topdowntoedown (@topdowntoedown) said on 14th June 2012, 12:46

      Apparently you can see all 24 hours live in France…

      …head just north of a village called Mulsanne and just east of one called Arnage ;)

      I’m going to be watching using live internet streams, but I think there’s extensive coverage on Eurosport.

    • Eurosport & Eurosport 2 are covering the whole 24H live along with the free practice sessions, the quali tonite and the warm-up before the race. And I think it’s the same broadcast-plan all across Europe for them. :)

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 14th June 2012, 17:48

      As I said above, I have distinct memories of having a FIA WEC stream (or ACO?) last year running on my computer. And I think audi also showed in car footage/outside stream too.

    • Wonderduck (@wonderduck) said on 15th June 2012, 2:37

      In the US, SPEED will be covering most of the 24 Hours… near as I can tell, they’ll only step away for 2 hours.

  13. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 14th June 2012, 12:46

    An Aston Martin in Gulf colours…I think I have a new wallpaper!

    Can’t wait for the race to start, it really is one if the highlights of the motorsport calendar.

  14. matt90 (@matt90) said on 14th June 2012, 12:50

    I generally don’t like Toyota. I don’t really have any respect for them. They quit Le Mans too easily last time. They were very fast and challenged for victory for the two years they competed with the GT-One. I believe they only recorded two finishes despite entering 6 cars across both years, but it wasn’t even poor reliability that let them down most, it was misfortune with tyre blowouts and accidents. Yet they still gave it up despite having a quick car which I’m sure could have easily remained at least reasonably competitive against Audi (same reason I don’t respect Peugeot any more). Then they approached F1 in completely the wrong way, and instead of fixing the fundamental flaws with the team they gave up. Admittedly it was in the middle of a manufacturer exodus brought on by moneygeddon, and they had been racing for a fairly impressive 8 years, but it was still pretty poor form, particularly considering they were in the middle of developing a car for the following year and had just completed a reasonably successful season by their standards, matching their 2005 high of 5 podium finishes.

    Despite all this, it’s good to see a new manufacturer involved, with an interesting car. I just hope they stick around for longer than their past form and the exit of Peugeot suggests they might.

    • Spot on!

      But apparently for Toyota this isn’t a “hit & run” affair anymore. They apparently will be involved two more years, waiting for the new regulations and the return of Porsche. I think they’ve all seen enough from Audi now, to actually stop thinking they can beat them without at least a couple of years of accomodation. :)

      • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 14th June 2012, 23:16

        It’s nice to see that they plan to stick around for atleast awhile.

        I am still mad at them because their TF110 for the 2010 F1 season looked so promising and could have provided an even closer, more exciting championship that year.

        If I were Timo Glock, I would curse Toyota every time I climbed into that Marussia.

  15. DC (@dujedcv) said on 14th June 2012, 13:32

    After 2011 edge of the seat stuff and high hopes for 2012 (world championship, Toyota, etc.), I was quite dissapointed when i heard that BMW and Peugeot wont be racing, and that Petit Le Mans is dropped in favour of Bahrain, and the fact that there will be 4 Audis really makes me quite unintersted for this years race.

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