This weekend’s opening round of the FIA WEC, Friday’s 1000 Miles of Sebring, looks like it’s going to be a bloodbath. Three recent rules changes have been instituted by the FIA to hamstring Toyota’s hybrid hypercar so that the non-hybrid Glickenhaus and Alpine have a chance at racing against the legendary Gazoo team. Unless the balance of performance changes again before the green flag falls on Friday, the Toyota team looks like they’ll have their work cut out for them if they want to win.
The biggest change to the ruleset under which the Toyota competes has been an increase in the speed at which the car’s hybrid all-wheel drive system can be activated. In 2021 the hybrid activation was set up to come in at 120 kilometers per hour, or about 75 mph. For Sebring a document was released increasing that deployment speed to a whopping 190 kph (118 mph)! Additionally, the car has been given a 30 kilo minimum weight increase, and a small power reduction.
If last weekend’s Sebring Prologue test is any indication, the Toyotas are barely running competitive times with ostensibly lower tier classed LMP2 cars. During the test it was the Realteam by WRT LMP2 team which set the fastest lap with a 1:48.089. The quickest of the Hypercar-classed teams, Alpine’s grandfathered-in quasi-vintage non-hybrid LMP1 was four tenths of a second slower down in fourth overall. The quicker of the two Toyotas testing, the #8 car, was a second slower yet, down in 9th overall. The #7 sister car finished the test 15th overall.
Obviously tests being what they are, we don’t know exactly what specification Toyota was running, or whether either of the two cars actually set a lap time indicative of their pace, but right now, at least from the outside, it looks like dire straits for the TGR folks.
“It is true that at 190 the functionality of four-wheel-drive is obviously hurting,” Toyota boss Pascal Vasselon told Autosport. “It is a big hit in terms of performance, it has a big effect,” he continued. “I cannot say we were expecting it, but we were fearing it could happen.”
It is absolutely mind blowing that the FIA specifically made this class to showcase future technology for road cars, and is now seemingly penalizing Toyota for actually building a car to fit that specification. By pushing the hybrid activation speed up to 118 miles per hour, it totally negates the performance benefit of going hybrid in the first place.
Toyota has to carry around all of that extra weight of a front motor and batteries, but there are only two corners around the entire Sebring circuit which are fast enough for the hybrid system to provide any benefit at all. The all-wheel drive system is most effective when it can help pull a car out of the apex of a corner, and right now that can only happen at the left hand turn 1, and right hand turn 17.
Obviously 1000 miles is a long race, and Toyota can still fight well on the strengths of its drivers running mistake-free, the car’s reliability, good strategy, and well-oiled pit stops. But from the outside looking in, it seems like Toyota is starting this race on the back foot.