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Toyota reveals new Le Mans car as Peugeot quits

By Ben Pulman

First Official Pictures

19 January 2012 12:45

Peugeot has announced that it’s closing its Le Mans and endurance racing programme with immediate effect. The unexpected announcement is a blow to the world-famous French endurance race, as the diesel-powered 908 HDi LMP1s have been the only cars able to challenge Audi’s dominance over the past few years – Peugeot won the Le Mans 24hrs in 2009.

On the same day that Peugeot Sport announced the closure of its endurance racing programme, Toyota revealed its new 2012 Le Mans racer. Just two single shots appeared on Twitter, but Toyota is expected to mount a series challenge to Audi over the coming years with its hybrid-powered racer.

Although Toyota has never won Le Mans, its GT-One racers were often the fastest at the 1998 and 1999 events.

Why has Peugeot closed its Le Mans programme?

This is the official line: ‘This decision has been taken against the backdrop of the challenging economic environment in Europe coupled with a particularly busy year for the brand in terms of new vehicle launches. In this context, Peugeot prefers to concentrate its 2012 resources on its commercial performance and, in particular, ensuring the successful launches of the 208, 3008 Hybrid4, 508 RXH, 508 Hybrid4 and 4008 which will take forward the brand's strategy of moving upmarket and extending its global presence.’

Peugeot was victorious at Le Mans in 2009, and has won the Intercontinental Le Mans Championship for the past two years. But all its cars retired at Le Mans in 2010, and despite two of the three Audi R18 TDIs crashing out in 2011, Peugeot failed to win the race and was criticised for its cars blocking the remaining Audi.

How does this affect the 2012 Le Mans race?

The Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), which organises the Le Mans 24hrs, is remaining bullish despite the withdrawal of a French team from France’s most famous race. It promises that the grids for the 2012 Le Mans 24hrs – and the recently announced FIA World Endurance Championship – will be full. 'It is a big disappointment for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the FIA World Endurance Championship​​, a competition created at the request of manufacturers in general and in particular Peugeot,' said ACO President Jean-Claude Plassart. ‘No doubt the hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to the 24 Hours of Le Mans each year and millions of viewers who follow will regret the absence of the Peugeot "lions"'.

FIA President Jean Todt: 'The loss of a competitor as strong as Peugeot is bad news, which shows how the current period is difficult for the automotive industry, and this particular group. I think, especially in these difficult times, it would be good to stay engaged, rather than withdraw. But we must respect their choice and hope they can soon return to the highest level of motorsport.'

Brit and Peugeot driver Anthony Davidson: 'It was a huge disappointment to hear. I am devastated for the Peugeot team and all those who worked so hard over the last two years'.

Audi driver and eight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen: 'Very surprised of the sad news that Peugeot Sport will not compete in the World Endurance Championship in 2012. Thank you for the competition, great racing and good battles over the last five years'.

What do we know about Toyota’s new Le Mans entry?

Toyota announced in late 2011 that it would be entering the 2012 Le Mans 24hrs, and a select number of other endurance races. Toyota Motorsport GmbH, based in Cologne, Germany, has designed, developed and built the LMP1-spec chassis, and the petrol-hybrid powertrain is being produced by Toyota in Japan.

Toyota has chosen a closed-cockpit design for its new racer (Audi switched to a closed-cockpit design last year, while Aston Martin’s massively uncompetitive AMR-One went the other way) and the huge ‘shark fin’ stretching from the cockpit back to the rear wing is mandated by race regulations and is an attempt to stop the cars flipping during high-speed spins.

Toyota hasn’t yet revealed the exact specifications of its hybrid powertrain, but the race regulations limit naturally aspirated petrol engines to a maximum capacity of 3400cc, while forced induction engines are set to a 2000cc maximum – turbodiesels are set to 3700cc. All vehicles must weight at least 900kg whatever their choice of fuel, and petrol-hybrid racers have a maximum fuel tank capacity of 73 litres (it's 75 for petrol cars, 65 for diesels, and 71 for diesel hybrids).

The 80th running of the Le Mans 24hrs is 16-17 June 2012.

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