The fierce roar of powerful engines reverberating through your body. The smell of oil and burning rubber. The excitement of drivers battling through corners, fighting for position bumper to bumper. There is nothing like high performance racing to get your blood pumping.
The sport appears to be in direct contrast with the ecological path that Toyota has chosen. However, a new type of racing has been born: hybrid racing. Many people think of the Prius as a quiet, fuel-friendly, family and youth-oriented car, because it is based on hybrid technology. However, the technology is versatile enough to be used in full-fledged racecars, which can zoom down a track at over 300 km/h.
The fact is that the hybrid system is a winner in all respects, offering genuine performance advantages as well as environmental benefits. Racing not only proves how sophisticated hybrid technology is, but it also represents the fast lane towards developing ever-better hybrid technology and drives our engineers to attain quantum leaps in innovation. We race to win, and to win, we must continue learning.
TS040 Hybrid Le Mans Prototype vs Third-Generation Prius
The Prius: Clean, Green and Fast
Before we dive into hybrid racing, let’s first take a look back at the THS, or Toyota Hybrid System. The first-generation Prius was released in 1997, utilizing the THS to offer dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, while the Prius offered amazing fuel economy, it still needed more power. In 2003, Toyota released the first big evolution to the hybrid system with the THS II, equipped in the second-generation Prius. Not only was its fuel economy better than ever, but it also featured higher battery voltage and increased electric motor output—resulting in far greater acceleration. The third-generation Prius debuted in 2009, featuring a plethora of new innovations. The gasoline engine was increased in size from 1.5 liters to 1.8 liters. The reduction gear was extensively redesigned to be extremely compact, and the electric motor was reworked to not only allow for higher output, but to also facilitate higher speeds.
Toyota had been planning a high performance Prius for hybrid racing since early in the vehicle’s development. The Landspeed Prius debuted at Bonneville National Speed Week in 2004, based on the second-generation Prius. It set a record speed for hybrids at an impressive 130.794 miles (210.5 kilometers) per hour.
Landspeed Prius, based on the second-generation model, 2004
Proving That Hybrids Have What It Takes
“Whenever we talk about applying environmental technologies to racing, hybrid technology comes up. This is something we have to commit to as a company,” Yoshiaki Kinoshita, President of Toyota Motorsport GmbH
Yoshiaki Kinoshita’s visionary concept came to fruition with Toyota’s hybrid racing project in late 2005. Mr. Kinoshita later became the President of Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG), where he would focus on unifying Toyota motorsports activities. Today, Hisatake Murata, the General Manager of the Motorsport Unit Development Division, is the driving force behind Toyota’s hybrid racing development.
Toyota entered into the Tokachi 24-hour race again the following year, this time using a Toyota Supra with a specialized hybrid racing system and achieving a splendid overall victory.
In the wake of this impressive 2007 win, hybrid racing seemed to fall out of the limelight at Toyota. But Mr. Kinoshita and Mr. Murata had actually set a new target: winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Tucked away behind closed doors, they worked feverishly to develop a brand new, dedicated hybrid racecar that would eventually be known as the TS030.
The TS030 and its successor were about to change the course of modern-day motorsports forever.
Toyota Supra HV-R
Winner of 2014 Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Titles at FIA World Endurance Championship
The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) series is a grueling endurance championship that includes the time-honored 24 Hours of Le Mans. Just as the series kicked off in 2012, Toyota entered the Le Mans race with the TS030 Hybrid equipped with the new THS-R (Toyota Hybrid System-Racing). In the qualifying stage, the TS030 achieved an impressive speed of 335.2 kilometers per hour, the fastest speed of any competitor.
But that was just the beginning. In 2014, Toyota debuted their all-new TS040 Hybrid racecar, and at that time, it was considered a rank outsider when the series began. This vehicle had an additional electric motor on the front axle, giving the racecar four-wheel drive and dramatically improving regenerative braking. The vehicle delivered around 1000 horsepower and could attain a top speed of 340 kilometers per hour on the straightaway. The TS040 went on to help Toyota Racing win the 2014 drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles to mark a successful conclusion to the FIA WEC season. The win was a clear demonstration of the capabilities of a hybrid racecar and its high performance prowess in a challenging racing environment. It also endorsed Toyota’s global leadership and progress in developing advanced hybrid technology.
Winning ways: the TS030 Hybrid (left) and TS040 Hybrid (right)
Racing Helps Develop Ever-Better Road Cars
A hybrid system generates electricity to recharge the batteries during deceleration by converting kinetic energy into electrical energy for storage. Racing cars have to brake violently and repeatedly throughout the race, so a lot of effort must be spent ensuring that a large amount of energy can be generated over a short time. When this technology is fed back into production cars, it allows for the development of extremely efficient hybrid cars that can regenerate electricity at any speed range.
Toyota’s philosophy of utilizing motorsports as a tool to make ever-better road cars has been embraced by the WEC programme, with hybrid technology transfer from the race track benefiting road car development since the beginning of the project in 2012. The WEC’s revised 2014 regulations put new emphasis on energy efficiency, requiring almost 25% improvement in fuel economy on each lap. This meant that Toyota had to focus on reducing fuel usage and improving recovered energy. In other words, the same things we focus on for production cars. Of course, better aerodynamics and lower weight, which are extremely important in racecars, play a massive role in creating fuel-efficient, high-performing production cars as well. In short, racing is how Toyota tests and develops its world-class hybrid technology.
As Mr. Murata says,
“The components and technology developed for the TS040 Hybrid will provide the basis for Toyota production cars in the future.”
A powerful hybrid system from Toyota is thus quietly changing the face of modern motorsports and perceptions about the capabilities of hybrid racing cars. Racing not only brings out the best in our engineers, but also spurs technological innovation. The next-generation Prius is a result of these dedicated efforts.
The All-New 2016 Toyota Prius Hybrid