Aero updates rolled out on the Toyota TS050 Hybrid have been made possible due to its decision to freeze car development for next year, according to Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon.
The Japanese manufacturer is running an updated high-downforce aero package in Sunday’s Six Hours of Shanghai, which has resulted in improved pace from the pair of LMP1 hybrids.
The No. 7 car has topped the time charts in every session so far this weekend, with Kamui Kobayashi smashing the track qualifying record for Toyota’s first pole since the Nürburgring in July.
While the recent development falls within the allowed adjustment window for each of the two permitted aero kits, Vasselon said they were able to divert resources initially allocated for the 2018 car for this update.
”We have added some aero development, which is possible and legal,” he told Sportscar365.
“It’s possible for us in the context of next year’s season because usually at this time, we’re developing next year’s car.
“This time, it’s not needed, so we could divert some resources to do some aero development on this car.”
Vasselon said the biggest changes have been made in the front bodywork, namely with new dive planes, although there’s a few other bits “here and there” that have also been further developed as well.
The results, so far, have matched Toyota’s simulation projections.
“We were hoping to be more competitive and we are more competitive, so we can only be happy,” Vasselon said. “The correlations, we are reasonably close to our expectations.”
While having come off victory in last month’s rain-soaked Six Hours of Fuji, Vasselon admitted they probably would have been more competitive earlier this year, had it taken advantage of the update then.
However, a decision to essentially freeze development for next year’s car was not fully taken until recently, when it became clear Peugeot wouldn’t enter the LMP1 class in the short-term.
Vasselon said they progressively “ramped down” work on the 2018 car since the summer, following Porsche’s announcement that it would withdraw from LMP1 competition at the end of the season.
“We started to develop the  car when it was clear we did not need to develop next year’s car,” he said. “So we took some time.”
December Decision on 2018/19 Return
Vasselon said they hope to have confirmation on Toyota’s LMP1 future by December, stressing that a final decision has not yet been taken as it awaits on the final 2018/19 regulations.
While ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil told Sportscar365 last month that manufacturers have a “clear vision” of the regs, which are “95 percent” complete, the Toyota tech chief said it’s “not totally” finalized.
Decisions on the number of cars it could enter at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or its driver lineup, meanwhile, is not yet been made clear, either.
“The first priority is to decide whether we’d be present or not,” Vasselon said.
Toyota typically announces its driver lineup during an official pre-season conference in Japan in January
“Artificial Competition” for Transition Years
Should Toyota continue into the WEC’s ‘Super Season’, Vasselon admitted the next two-and-a-half years would likely bring “artificial competition” to the top prototype class.
The FIA and ACO’s plan to increase the performance of privateer, non-hybrid LMP1s to the levels of Toyota through an Equivalence of Technology.
“These two seasons are transition years,” Vasselon said. “We are really looking towards 2020 and the level of proper competition and proper regulations where all participants will be working according to the same rules.
“Next year we’ll have a different set of rules so it would be a kind of artificial competition. Then the next set of rules should be the same for everyone.”