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Vasselon on Race Prospects: It’s “Toyota vs. Le Mans”

Vasselon says victory at Le Mans would be just as important without factory competition…

Photo: MPS Agency

Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon believes the key to victory at Le Mans is not beating the competition but the race itself.

The Japanese manufacturer heads into next weekend’s enduro seeking an elusive first win after losing near-certain victories in three of the last four years due to incidents, mechanical issues and unlucky breaks.

However, with Toyota as the lone-remaining LMP1 hybrid, amid the exits of Audi and Porsche, pundits have questioned the acceptance of a Le Mans victory while only up against non-hybrid privateers that have been artificially brought closer to the Toyota TS050 Hybrids.

When asked by Sportscar365 if victory in this year’s race would be less meaningful in light of no factory competition, Vasselon insisted it doesn’t make the challenge any easier. 

“Not really,” he said. “In fact, in the past four years, three times we were the logical winner. In 2014 we had the fastest car, in 2016 it was close but in the end we were the fastest.

“Last year we were clearly the fastest. So, it is not a matter of being able to beat the opposition.

“It is a matter of being able to beat Le Mans. So still it is our challenge.

“In terms of performance, we have already been able to beat our competition at Le Mans. What we did not beat is the 24 hours. So our challenge is still there, it’s still intact. It’s Toyota vs. Le Mans.”

Kazuki Nakajima, who came less than ten minutes away from delivering Toyota victory in 2016, believes a ‘win is a win’ no matter the number of cars or manufacturers in the class.

While having featured two, and oftentimes three manufacturers since 2014, Audi had dominated the LMP900 ranks in the early-to-mid 2000s, regularly as the lone factory team prior to Peugeot’s arrival in 2007.

“We have been trying hard to win this race over the last 30 years, if you include the previous projects,” Nakajima told Sportscar365. “We have been fighting hard and we know what counts to win this.

“Even if there’s no other manufacturer around us… If we can win this race without any mistakes or any technical failures, I think it means enough for us.

“At the end of the day, after the race if we can feel that we have done everything we could do, then I think that will be enough.

“I think some of the fans or media would think it means less not having the other manufacturers there, but on our side, I don’t think it would change much.”

Vasselon said they’re banking on reliability of the cars and have even simulated parts failures and accidents in pre-season testing, in an effort to be prepared for the unexpected.

“We have already analyzed the past,” he said. “We have taken any kind of counter measure related to what has happened in the past. Now, it’s a new year.”

“Positive Pressure” in Toyota’s Direction

While Toyota’s past failures have added to the pressure within the organization, Vasselon had described it as ‘positive pressure’ heading into race week.

“I think there is, of course, pressure as usual when you have the target to win,” he said.

“Le Mans brings you a kind of general motivation. You come to Le Mans and there is something happening, and the motivation is there.

“Pressure tends to be positive when you arrive at Le Mans.

“This is the feeling of the team at the moment. Yes, there is pressure, but when you arrive in Le Mans you feel it in a positive way.”

Daniel Lloyd contribute to this report

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Jeffrey

    June 8, 2018 at 7:39 am

    Private Porches have won before not with standing that there were a Porche factory team as well as other factory teams. In the end it is whether you good enough , like he says to beat the race.

  2. Ko I

    June 8, 2018 at 7:57 am

    I was going to refute the claim that a win without competition from other teams would be a tin trophy, but I got to thinking about something. Let’s say FIA/ACO does, miraculously, decide to make the hybrids and privateers equivalent somehow, and three hours in, the Rebellions even have the lead. One by one, the privateers’ cars start having mechanical issues of whatever kind and by the halfway point, all of the privateer cars still on track have just zero chance of catching up (six to ten lap deficit). Toyota wins, not because of unfair pace, but because they’ve refined their racecraft over seven years of LMP1 and no one can compete with them in terms of reliability. That would be a valid win even though they really had no competition, in my book, so I’ll concede that a win because no one can compete with them, speed wise, is a valid win

    • Yetimania

      June 9, 2018 at 3:19 pm

      Rebellions were putting everything they had on the table speedwise in testing, yet they finished 0.6 off Toyota’s in race config…
      Toyota can do a lap 2-3 seconds faster than testing. Meaning ACO might need to bring back 110kg/h fuel allowance to keep the 0.5 gap updated. Otherwise it’s going to be a soporific race watching Toyota’s pulling away both in the tarmac and in the pit stops…
      I’d like to see a Oreca LMP1- AER on the privateers side to have a complete panoramic view of the ACO EoT.

  3. jason

    June 8, 2018 at 8:58 am

    I guess that is true. Toyota has not beaten Le Mans per sae. There margin for error is less this year than it was last year though with P1 privateers present in much larger numbers.

  4. jeremy

    June 8, 2018 at 9:11 am

    If Toyota wins it will not go down as a solid victory earned. Yes they will fight and win with the reliability they have learned over the past few years , but without any similar competition and solid manufacturer involved to put the real pressure on, it almost will become processional.

    • Old Trombone

      June 8, 2018 at 9:50 am

      So Audi didn’t win 2000-2008, Bentley didn’t win in 2003, and Porsche don’t own literally half their trophies. How about F1 McLaren 1988, every one of those victories was worthless because of the oppo, right?

      • Paul

        June 8, 2018 at 4:08 pm

        Nobody was then able to penalize the opposition mid-race, if its race pace is too fast, as it is this year! Fell for sorry for Toyota, there’s no honour to be had at LM for them this year. And for “beating Le Mans”, would it still be a great victory with two Toyotas and the rest of the field GT3 cars?

      • Steven

        June 8, 2018 at 7:22 pm

        Peugeot raced in LMP1 from 2007-2011. They were a full fledged factory team that also won the 2009 race.

        Audi’s wins in 2004 and 2005 were done by privateers. There were no factory effort in either of those years.

  5. Old Trombone

    June 8, 2018 at 9:52 am

    Or we could look at it this way:

    VAG lost the morality trophy. World disgust at cheating manufacturing regulations sure was NOT a good look on the sporting field, right?

    Winning by default is STILL WINNING.

    • Andy Flinn

      June 8, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      Old, that scandal taints VW. Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lambo? Not really.

      Meanwhile, Audi’s involvement in motorsports has boosted that brand’s reputation immensely.

      How many people still even remember the Audi 5000 sudden acceleration fiasco from the ’80s?

    • littletrumpetiscluless

      June 8, 2018 at 4:28 pm

      Trumpet, you sure love beating that Toyota drum and keep doing on about Audi, etc.

      Audi started the LMP1 class towards what it became and every one of Porsches victories were hotly contested.

      You don’t know what you are talking about.

      And the “morality trophy”? WTF. VAG RIGHTFULLY fucked the EPA and it had nothing to do with “morality”. The EPA is a bully fun by a bunch of leftist greenie kooks.

      They are the ones who need to worry about “morality” and they deserved to get fucked, so spare me the angst.

      • Old Trombone

        June 9, 2018 at 10:05 am

        YEAH!

        If you don’t like the rules, JUST CHEAT.

        If you don’t like the people, JUST CHEAT

        If you don’t like reality, JUST CHEAT.

        Sports fans know the truth, winners don’t win from competition along fair rules, nope. The RIGHT PEOPLE win, and if they have to cheat to win, so be it.

        And if cheating isn’t enough, why not just scream and yell and carry on like a baby… waaaaaaaahhhh, waaaaahhh, waaaaahhh

      • Old Trombone

        June 9, 2018 at 10:08 am

        EPA, established by President Nixon, upfunded by President Reagan, again upfunded by President Bush the First.

        But hey, if you don’t like those truths, just deny them. With your keyboard.

  6. kv

    June 8, 2018 at 11:17 am

    VAG has all but killed the credibility of winning LeMans by cheating,and this really says Toyota for 30 yrs plays fair and still loses!

    • Paul

      June 8, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      Nonsense

    • kvisalsoclueless

      June 8, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      KV, cheating? You referring to the VAG and EPA?

      Freaking hilarious.

  7. j_c

    June 8, 2018 at 11:22 am

    If Toyota wins and also ends up faster than they were previously with no mechanical failures, that definitely counts.

  8. griffm3

    June 8, 2018 at 11:27 am

    He can say what he wants, the fact it this victory will be much less meaningful without another factory battling Toyota. Fact.

    • TF110

      June 8, 2018 at 12:31 pm

      Not fact. A win is a win. Audi beat up privateers for over half a decade. Those wins are not meaningful? Beating Pescarolo, a Dome, maybe some customer R8’s is bad legacy? No one talks about that, just how many wins they have.

      • Paul

        June 8, 2018 at 4:10 pm

        Nobody was then able to penalize the opposition mid-race, if its race pace is too fast, as it is this year!

      • Steven

        June 8, 2018 at 7:26 pm

        Only 2000-2002, and 2006 was when the Audi factory team kinda alone. Cadillac had a factory effort but was rubbish at best. And Bentley ran a factory effort in 2001-03.

        So kinda voids your theory of zero competition. The 04-05 Audi wins were won by privateers.

  9. KW

    June 8, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    We are a very small fan community here which knows everything about endurance racing, but we are not representative for the average customer who considers buying a Toyota or Lexus. These people will be told (and everything of this will be true) that Toyota’s hybrid technology has won the most famous and most challenging endurance race in the world. And being able to send out this message is worth continuing the engagement after the VAG withdrawal. Nobody outside this small fan community here will know or will even care if this victory was “well deserved” or “only with minor competition”.

  10. vanillachinchilla

    June 8, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    All wins at Le Mans are meaningful and worthy of bragging rights. But of course it is easier to win when you are under less pressure to run at pace. Remains to be seen if that will be the case though. I suspect Rebellion has more of a shot than people realize. The package should be reliable and the car is quick. Will come down to how flawless of a run the Toyota team can manage.

  11. Dave

    June 8, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Vasselin’s point is valid about it being Toyota versus Le Mans. The difference is that if you aren’t being pushed by the competition, say you have a 1-3 lap advantage, then you can be a lot easier on your running gear. This means less likelihood of failure or accidents due to pushing. I’m still going to watch- assuming I can find a feed that’s acceptable. I’m still perplexed at the deal that blocks the US from the paid FIA feed.

    • Paul

      June 8, 2018 at 4:12 pm

      Good luck. I hpe you find one. There’ll be plenty to watch. Absurdly, the race would be more exiting without Toyota this year

  12. John

    June 8, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Damned if they did, damned if they didn’t…

    If Toyota had withdrawn with the same immediate effect as Audi and Porsche did, it would have been blamed for killing P1, and who knows what the class would look like, or even if there would be one…or a WEC, for that matter.

    So Toyota sticks around, throws the WEC a lifeline, gets blamed for EoT, people scream that it is guaranteed a win in a race yet to be run, and now, that such a win won’t mean anything.

    It seems there is no winning for them under any circumstance, at least according to some.

    • Yetimania

      June 9, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      A win against privateers that can keep up the pace in race trim and on which they can easily gain ground in pit stops that should be a fairly prospect for this year’s LeMans.
      This way we are all gonna root for both Toyota’s to break, fail, crash and catch fire so any privateer can have some justice back and finally win LeMans with truly privateers equipment. A first at the biggest race.

  13. Just Asking

    June 10, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    You do not know much about this race ,do you ? Jean Rondeau a small privateer won this race with his own self designed car in 1980

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