We are living in an age of austerity, ever greater ecological awareness and diminishing natural resources. All of these appear to be natural opponents of motor sport which, historically, has been responsible for consuming vast amounts of money and resources with apparently little or no regard to any ecological credentials. In this context I will be looking at Toyota’s motor sport Philosophy.
There are many reasons why motor sport cannot carry on in the way it has without falling out of favour with the wider public. The sports governing bodies have embraced austerity and ecology by introducing regulations to reduce costs and reduce the carbon footprint of the sport, whilst trying to maintain a competitive and attractive sports spectacle.
It seems impossible to square the circle. As with all things in life and especially motor sport ‘time is money’ and teams are now expected to go faster, spend less money and pollute less. Despite the enormity of the problem it appears that Motor sport has risen to the challenge at least in the World Endurance Championship where the cars are going just as fast if not faster than they ever have, they look great, sound great and are producing some amazing close racing from the start of the race to the very end.
I was curious to find out how this is being achieved and turned to our good friends at Toyota Gazoo Racing who not only are the current WEC world champions, but they have a deep heritage in Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship too. It is true that they are struggling in the 2015 WEC season, but not for the lack of development on their part, as this year’s car is faster than last years. The challenge is that Porsche and Audi have just found a bit more, and over a 6- or 24-hour race a difference of fractions of a second add up.
It is clear that Toyota’s motor sport philosophy consists of at least three pillars: PEOPLE, TECHNOLOGY, ECOLOGY:
When you meet the Toyota team, and I mean team in the widest sense, not just the drivers, they always appear to be at ease with themselves. Sure they will all have their own mountains to climb, and I’m not suggesting that working in the WEC is easy. But it is clear that they are valued and supported within the team and what is really fascinating is how the motor sport team is just part of the Toyota team. Yet you get a real feeling that what happens at 2:00 AM on a Sunday morning in June at Le Mans, will find its way sooner or later into the DNA of the car you drive to the shops, and this was confirmed when I spoke to Alastair Moffitt, Marketing and Communications Manager at Toyota Motor sport GmbH.
“One of the biggest advantages for Toyota with the WEC project, is how road car engineers are trained in a motor sport environment. Many of our Japanese powertrain engineers are really road car engineers on secondment. They join the race team for approximately six months and then rotate with other road car engineers, so the experience of operating in a very pressured and time-sensitive environment is fed back into the human resource in Japan. They also learn more about the extreme end of the hybrid technology, as well as solution-focused engineering (the race will start, whether you are ready or not!)”.
We all know the stories of how putting a man on the moon helped develop things like Teflon coated frying pans and Velcro, who knows whether this is true or just urban myth. What I do know, is that when the TS030 and TS040 hybrid systems were designed, the engineers responsible used their extensive experience of road car hybrids. This resulted in a more powerful and reliable hybrid system compared to the opposition, who where forced to ‘buy in’ expertise and technology.
The flow of technology is clearly a two-way street within Toyota as Alastair explained, “The TS040 is a rolling test bed for hybrid components. We use it to generate information about the performance of hybrid components in extreme conditions of heat, vibration and endurance. Even for motor sport-specific parts, we learn information which can be added to the ‘pool’ in Japan and used to improve road car processes and technology. More specifically, we tested next-generation Prius sensors on the 2014 TS040.”
Toyota are committed to getting the best value they can out of everything they do and sharing the lessons learned on the high street and the track. This is no more evident than in the final fundamental which I want to explore, Ecology.
The modern road car compared to the one we grew up with is more reliable, more durable, more technologically loaded, faster and more economic. I’m sure I’m not alone in my view, that once we have decided the spec of our family car from an aesthetic, power and gadget perspective, we want economy and efficiency, and motor sport is no different. The regulations demand that cars need to go further on less fuel. Competition demands that the cars go faster and thus costing more. Austerity demands that this is achieved at a lower cost. Quite a paradox!
Yet again Toyota and the other teams have risen to the challenge and achieved some remarkable savings in response to regulatory demands. The intricacies of the regulations go far beyond my understanding, but in very simple terms Alastair explained that at the 2013 24-hours Le Mans one car consumed 2127 litres of fuel in accordance with the regulations, while in 2014 it consumed 1683 litres in accordance with the regulations, a saving in excess of 20% on the prior year. And yet the car’s top speed increased from 326km/h to 339km/h and the qualifying lap time fell by almost five seconds. It seems like in one move, Toyota satisfied the Austerity and Ecology lobby, as well as the motor racing fans.
No doubt there were influences such as the aero packages, hybrid configuration and the weather, but it is still pretty remarkable that the cars can go faster and still use less fuel. This is real technology that will hit the road going cars. Or maybe the road going cars are influencing the race car?
It may be the case that in these austere times motor racing appears brash and inappropriate, but it is clear to me that at Toyota, at least, motor racing is having a positive influence on our daily lives and long may they continue to do so.
Written by: John Mountney