Last Sunday, Toyota pulled off their 2nd consecutive 1-2 finish in the last two races. After a comprehensive victory at their home race, the Japanese marque managed to win again in China and making the world champions of 2012/2013 look very behind. It is a trend which started early in the season, Toyota has managed to increase its performance with every race, while Audi always has more problems to find performance. Inevitably the question is, how come this sudden difference in performance?
When researching the LMP1 class you will sooner or later get caught in the different power concepts. Since the beginning of this season there have been new LMP1 regulations, the type and combination of engine and hybrid has been developed almost from scratch for 2014. It is a situation which has never been seen before in the long distance scene and has had its own effect on development at Audi and Toyota.
After their 2nd place finish at Le Mans in 2013, the leadership at Toyota decided to cut its budget for the remainder of the year, using only 1 car in the rest of the WEC excluding the Japansese round which was cut short, and all funds will be put into the development of the car for this season. Since the Japanese are among the pioneers of hybrid technology, it was some-what obvious that they would bring key know-how from the field into the development of hybrid TS040. This clever strategy and lengthened development time for Toyota allowed them to finally get the jump on Audi for the first time in 2 years.
In March, Toyota finally presented, with a slight delay, one of the most advanced hybrid racing cars of all time. The technical data had at first read like a dream: two different hybrid systems with a novel recovery system, assisted by a naturally aspirated, petrol V8. Together, the system puts out 1,000 horsepower on the track, which comes in 8 mega-joule segments to use. However, over at Audi looked at it differently and it would seem, tried to consolidate their position at the front of the pack. After they had already put 18 months of into the development of the new R18, they stuck on the safe side. They wanted a safe evolution of the previous concept and used in comparison to Toyota, less efforts to make innovations in hybrid area. Instead, they focused mainly on one area where you normally try and improve when you are in a leading position: the aerodynamics of the car.
The Audi team’s efforts towards a more optimized airflow, is what helped them deliver a usual, solid performance in the race to the Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans. After a win a CoTA for Audi after a red flag caught out the Toyota team, everything pointed to a balanced duel. But after the summer break things started to change. Toyota had used the long break and learned from the last three races well. The Japanese team had improved their unusual energy concept to improve their overall race pace and it defiantly showed at CoTA, Fuji and Shanghai, with very strong performances at all 3 circuits
At Audi the aerodynamic concept is very well developed, but they can not use that to their advantage at all circuits. This fact has the consequence that the Audi does not simply have the power in a straight line or coming out of corners to compete with Porsche or the ever-more impressive Toyota. Audi plans to rise again next year back to the top, but they will be forced to review their hybrid system for 2015. In addition to a change from the 2 MJ-class to the 6 or 8 MJ-category and expansion and remodeling of its own hybrid concept, it is a possibility that Audi will change its V6 turbo engine and bring an entirely new power unit all together. But it is clear that there is no time to rest in the WEC. Toyota cannot afford to sleep with Porsche set to bring more improvements for next season and Nissan already waiting in the wings to show off their own innovative concepts next year.