Unlike previous years, the upgrades on our 2018 car are very limited; essentially an update of the cooling system and some development of the bodywork within the 2017 homologation. According to Toyota’s 2017 homologation, they can develop only constant thickness bodywork parts and areas on the car that are considered as aerodynamic options. This all means that the cars essentially look the same as last year.
Most of the engine regulations for hybrids haven’t changed, except for a reduction in the amount of fuel that can be used. On the other hand, non-hybrids can use more fuel, so this change has been implemented to make the non-hybrids more competitive. For example, non-hybrids will have 37% more fuel flow than hybrids. If the thermal efficiency of their engines is the same, hybrids would have 37% less power than non-hybrids. However, fuel allocation, which is the method of achieving similar performance within the new regulations, is based on a purely theoretical approach with theoretical performance data as well as engine and fuel efficiency which has been provided by the constructors. It’s a kind of guess to know what the performance of the non-hybrid LMP1 cars will be in the end. That said, remember that the TS050 recorded the fastest lap time ever of Le Mans last year, so if they improve reliability which has always been Toyota’s Achilles Heel, there remains a good chance of them taking the overall win.
The biggest change that Toyota have made for 2018 is the weight reduction of the battery system, and its associated cooling system. The TS050’s battery can generate about 300kW (which is more than 10 times that generated by a Prius). The battery obviously generates a lot of heat and the electrodes get quite hot so Toyota have developed a specific electrolytic solution and cell material which improves the heat resistance and simplifies the cooling system. These small changes give a weight reduction of the whole battery system, including the water-cooling device, compared to 2017.
As well as the work to the battery, Toyota have worked to review all the engine components in an effort to improve reliability. Although there are eight races in the Super-Season there is an allowance of only seven powertrains. With two Le Mans 24 Hours and a Sebring 1500-mile race, these conditions will be very demanding on the Toyota’s powertrain. During Le Mans race week the car will have to drive 5000 to 6000 kms, and more than 7000 km including the test day. To ensure that the cars will complete such distances Toyota have been testing more than twice as much on the bench and have so far bench-tested the TS050’s powertrain for 600 hours since Le Mans in 2017.
So bearing all of the above in mind, can we call how Toyota will do in this year’s WEC Super-Season? Hell no, of course not. If they can get on top of their reliability issues then theory says they have a very good chance, but the new non-hybrid LMP1s have yet to turn a wheel in ‘anger’ so will the theory match the actual? Perhaps tomorrow we will have a better idea when the WEC Prologue’s 30 hour test kicks off but really we’ll know when the cars take to the grid for Round 1 at Spa in May.