Toyota admits that it will face a huge challenge to try and beat Audi in next weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Japanese marque returns to the Circuit de la Sarthe seeking to build on an encouraging debut for the TS030 HYBRID last year, which led the race early on before Audi gained the upper hand and went on to take victory.
This years race will be the first one in which Toyota has fielded two 2013-spec cars, with the team having found itself playing second fiddle to Audi in the World Endurance Championship races run so far.
While changes to the regulations have allowed petrol-powered LMP1 cars – like the Toyota – to run with additional three litres of fuel, Audi still go into the event as many peoples favourites to secure victory, with Toyota team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita admitting a big challenge lies ahead, despite improvements made to the car in the past twelve months.
“We are very much looking forward to the Le Mans 24 Hours,” he said. “Last year's Le Mans was our first race with the TS030 HYBRID so we expected to face some difficulties; this year we are better prepared and we expect to demonstrate that. Leading Le Mans last year, and winning three WEC races, has given us a taste for success.
“It would be a dream for us to stand on the top of the podium at such a legendary race. We are facing a very tough opponent in Audi so it is hard to be confident, but we know we have done everything in our power to be ready and we will give 100% effort to succeed. It is a very long week and many things can happen so we must be ready for the challenges to come.”
The #7 car of Nicolas Lapierre, Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima led the Toyota challenge last year before being sidelined by an engine issue and after a tough start to 2013, Lapierre said the trio were eager to again run at the front.
“It's very exciting to be back here,” he said.”The team is much more ready than we were last year at the same time so it is promising. We have been a bit disappointed by the two first races this year so I hope we can show some improvement, particularly in terms of results. But it is looking okay, the team is more prepared and everyone has more experience of this track than last year so it should be better.
“Le Mans is a very special event; it is definitely the most important race of the season. As a French driver it is significant because it is a French race but for everyone it is important as one of the most popular races in the world. I have never finished on the podium here as I have always had some bad luck, but last year gave me a taste of leading this race so I hope this year is the lucky one.”
The sister car of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin also ran well last year before Davidson's huge accident while lapping a GTE Ferrari, and the Briton said he felt sure that the team was heading into the race in better shape than twelve months ago.
“It's exciting to be back in Le Mans and I certainly expect a much better conclusion than last year,” he said. “A lot has happened since we arrived at Le Mans 12 months ago; the team has learnt a lot and matured while I have completed my recovery programme after the accident. I'm ready to generate some much better memories!
“I feel good, I'm confident in the team and I know my team-mates are very strong. We have prepared quite intensely for this race over the past months and it was nice to see at the official test day how much progress has been made in the last year. The team is better prepared on all levels; we know the challenge facing us and we are ready for this. We will do the best possible job we can and keep pushing for the best possible result.”