► Toyota and Porsche unveil their 2015 WEC cars
► They have Audi and Nissan to beat this season
► Porsche to race in three special colours at Le Mans
The pot for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours is coming nicely to the boil, with the final front-running contenders from Toyota and Porsche revealed yesterday at the first official World Endurance Championship test at Paul Ricard in France.
They’re aiming to steal the Le Mans crown from Audi’s R18 e-tron, as well as fend off a new challenge from Nissan’s adventurous, and potentially ground-breaking GT-R LM Nismo. This could be a vintage year at La Sarthe…
Toyota TS040 Hybrid
We’ll start with Toyota because it’s the defending champion. Although the team’s hopes at Le Mans were dashed by car failure after leading for the majority of the race, it scooped the overall WEC honours at season’s end with Sébastien Buemi and Britain’s Anthony Davidson the winning driver pairing.
They’re both back for a second go this year and a second Brit, Mike Conway, will contest the full season for Toyota this year too.
Like Audi, Toyota has taken an evolutionary approach to this year’s car. It’s essentially a revised version of the defending champion, albeit with significant aero updates (particularly at the front) weight-saving measures and minor suspension alterations to help the tyres last longer - a key development, as teams are allowed fewer sets of tyres during a race weekend this season.
Toyota claims nearly 1000bhp in total from the TS040’s hybrid powertrain, which combines electric motors front and rear with a refreshingly old-school 3.7-litre naturally aspirated petrol V8.
Porsche 919 Hybrid
Porsche’s return to topflight sports car racing wasn’t straightforward last year, although it came close to springing a surprise at La Sarthe when it found itself in the lead with less than three hours remaining before being overhauled by Audi.
Porsche says ‘virtually every component’ of the 2015 919 has been refined, with the end result a lighter, more rigid structure, friendlier handling, improved fuel-efficiency and extra energy for the hybrid drivetrain.
It’s also taken a break from the data analysis to give the cars a fresh lick of paint. Although they’ll run in sensible white for the balance of the season, at Le Mans each of of the team’s three cars will run in the different white, black and red schemes shown here. We’re quite partial to the red one, inspired by the Porsche 917 that scored Porsche’s first win at Le Mans in 1970. Former F1 star Mark Webber will be in the red car at Le Mans, with current F1 pilot Nico Hulkenberg taking a break from his duties at Force India to campaign the white one alongside Briton Nick Tandy.
Like last year, Porsche’s 919 uses a 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine (a V4, of all things) with around 500bhp to power the rear wheels and a 400bhp electric motor to drive the fronts.
It’s going to be quite some season, as the TS040 and 919 square up to Audi’s scary looking R18 e-tron and Nissan’s leftfield front-engined GT-R LM Nismo.
The 2015 calendar begins with the Silverstone 6 Hours on 12 April, followed by seven races including the blue riband Le Mans 24 Hours in June.