Why Toyota's victory at Le Mans will improve your next car

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The Toyota racing team claimed their fourth consecutive win at Le Mans last Sunday. The 89th edition of the famous race was won by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, who finished 371 laps of the 13.6 km circuit in the allocated 24 hours. RFI finds out how the technology that shaped Toyota's victory will be adapted for next generation road vehicles.

Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the other Toyota claimed the second spot, to make it a perfect outing for the Japanese manufacturer.

While this dominant performance will help Toyota in its endeavour to claim a third successive world championship, it also has important implications for the development of ordinary road car technology.

Toyota is the only team in the World Endurance Championship (of which Le Mans is a part) that runs hybrid powertrains, a combination of a four stroke internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Le Mans race opens the door to motor innovation

As a pioneer of the hybrid technology for mass-market cars, the information the company obtains from races such as Le Mans is extremely valuable.

“This information pertains to several areas such as battery development, battery software, hybrid engine and electric motor. There is no individual part that gets directly transferred from a racing car into a road car. Instead our input becomes a part of the process of the development of the components for road cars,” Toyota team director Rob Leupen told RFI.

Leupen says that at Le Mans, for example, the team’s objective was to ensure maximum performance and reliability for 24 hours.

“For a road car, the performance and reliability parameters are completely different.”

Significant differences in electric car technology

On battery technology, Leupen says that, though the performance difference of the batteries between Le Mans cars and road cars is significant, the racing batteries cannot be put directly into the road cars.

“The data we share from our racing weekends is integrated into the development of the batteries for the road cars. There’s a similar process when it comes to the hybrid engine and electric motor.”

Just to get an idea of how different a Le Mans racing car is from a road car, the top speed of the Toyotas is 320 km/hr on the Le Mans straights. The hybrid powertrain consists of an electrically powered front engine and a four stroke internal combustion engine at the rear. Combined, they produce around 700 horsepower.

Interestingly, while the road car division benefits from the racing data, initially the flow was other away around. In 1997, Toyota introduced the world’s first hybrid road car Prius, which still continues to be popular. According to Leupen, the source of the hybrid technology in race cars was Prius. “Since 2007, the hybrid technology has been developed for motorsport,” he says.

Leupen says that Toyota has been using the hybrid technology as “it helps a significant reduction of the use of fuel and improves efficiency.”

He says the team is constantly looking for sustainable technologies. “Toyota runs a Corolla with a hydrogen powertrain in a Japanese racing series. There are other moves towards carbon neutral and long-term environmental friendly systems," he says.

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