It is very much part of the unpredictable ebb and flow of motorsports that most racing series go through periods of dominance at some time or another, where one team or one particular driver seems to be constantly a step or two ahead of the completion. On two wheels, Giacomo Agostini staked his claim to being the greatest motorcycle rider of all time by winning seven back to back world championships from 1966 to 1972. Sébastien Loeb and Citroën’s nine year stranglehold over the WRC is a feat that will probably never be surpassed, whilst in Formula 1 Michael Schumacher led Ferrari through an era of such dominance in the early 2000’s that fans actually started to accuse the sport of becoming ‘too boring’.
And so the same has come to pass in the oldest race of them all, the 24 hours of Le Mans. Audi, thanks largely to a perfect recipe of revolutionary diesel engineering combined with the unparalleled talents of Danish racing mastermind Tom Kristensen, have reigned supreme over the endurance classic for the best part of a decade. However, rule changes for 2014 will test their resolve to the maximum as other manufacturers grow ever hungrier to topple them from their perch.
This season, Toyota will be one of the teams in pole position to do just that. The car on which they will be pinning their hopes will be named the TS040 Hybrid and has been unveiled to the public in the South of France ahead of the official championship testing season. In order to take the fight to Audi’s recently released R18 WEC, Toyota’s new machine can call on a total of 986bhp via the combined 513bhp 3.7 litre V8 petrol engine and a 473bhp all-wheel drive hybrid motor. This represents a significant evolution from last year’s 3.4 litre TS030 Hybrid which managed second place. New regulations limit teams to using 25 per cent less fuel than in 2013 and therefore place greater emphasis on hybrid power and energy recovery systems. Indeed, Porsche’s claim that they will be able to harvest up to 8 megajoules per lap through a two-pronged kinetic and thermal energy recovery system has already laid down a significant marker to the rest of the field.
The Japanese outfit retains the same squad of drivers for 2014, with Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima sharing the No7 car and Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi piloting the No8 machine.
The TS040 Hybrid has already completed 12 days of testing across Europe and will now enter the final few weeks of preparation in the run-up to the start of the 2014 World Endurance Championship season on 20 April at Silverstone. The main event itself at Le Mans gets underway on 14 June.