Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon admits there are still “risks” at play entering this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, despite its highest level of pre-race preparation to date.
The Japanese manufacturer, which seeks an elusive first Le Mans win, has completed extensive simulated mechanical and accident scenarios in testing, in anticipation for the range of issues that can impact teams.
It has also reinforced several previous weak points of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid, which is largely unchanged from a performance standpoint this year.
Vasselon, however, said there’s no way to completely ensure a trouble-free race, due to the sheer range of variables.
“You can call that paranoia,” he said. “Engineers would call it risk analysis. It’s something we have to explain to the team as well.
“What do all engineers do? They list the risks of their business, then they work as hard as they can [to fix] the top ones.
“For sure, since last year, we have addressed some additional risks that we did not address in the past but we did not finish the list.
“We know that there are still risks existing that are not covered and we cannot cover. By the nature of things, it’s impossible.”
While having simulated more than 25 different scenarios in testing, ranging from internal combustion engine failure to accident damage and even driving an entire lap on three wheels, Toyota has also taken direct lessons learned from its previous Le Mans defeats.
Vasselon said they’ve developed a more durable clutch following Kamui Kobayashi’s race-ending failure last year, which was triggered by a freak pit lane incident with a ‘fake marshal’.
It also now has “several options” on points of recovery for the car on full electric power, following an oil fire from the No. 9 Toyota of Nico Lapierre that made its combustion engine inoperable and also led to retirement.
Toyota has even made changes to its 2.4-liter V6 turbo powerplant to prevent a repeat of its defeat in 2016 when Kazuki Nakajima stopped on track with less than ten minutes to go.
“Now, when the same thing happens, we are able to disable one cylinder block and with the other one we would be able to do a lap in four minutes,” Vasselon explained.
“This kind of problem is a good example of a problem which we can mitigate somehow.
“As soon as you have such a problem you need to do something about it.”
’50 Percent Chance’ of Accident in Race
Vasselon said they believe LMP1 hybrids have a “one in two” chance of having some sort of accident with another car in the race, largely due to the disparity in speeds between the classes and types of cars.
Toyota has made additional preparations on its interaction with LMP1 non-hybrids because of the fuel cuts the TS050 Hybrids go through over the course of each lap.
Drivers have also been practicing with virtual traffic on its simulations.
“We have been working a bit on that to understand where are the best places to possibly overtake with little risk, where there is a danger to be overtaking, so yes we have been working on that,” Vasselon said.
Vasselon said the drivers have the “same degrees of freedom” to override fuel cuts, in attempts to pass cars, although it would lead to slowdowns later in the lap in order for the system to compensate for the extra fuel used.
“Our drivers are well aware and on their side working on it,” he said.
“We have helped them to get prepared with traffic simulations and helped them to know how to use the boost, the fuel, to pass quickly but without taking too much risk. But the risk will still exist.”