Posted Jan 19th 2012 10:01AM
The sudden departure of Peugeot from the Le Mans racing scene came as quite a shock, we know. But don't count the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship – or the famed 24-hour race at its center – out for the count before it's even started, because another powerhouse is already gearing up to take Peugeot's place. And that powerhouse is Toyota.
The Japanese auto giant announced its plans to build and campaign a new LMP1 racer at Le Mans and the WEC back in October. Toyota Motorsport GmbH (which ran the company's F1 team until its withdrawal in 2009) then set about designing the car, partnering with Team Oreca to help with the logistics of entering the pinnacle of endurance racing, and hired three top pilots to, you know, actually drive the thing.
With all those pieces in place, the Toyota team began testing their new prototype racer last week at the Paul Ricard test track in France. Toyota itself didn't release much in the way of details, but Alex Wurz was said to have led the shake-down, with his team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima on hand to share in the driving duties as well.
And while no "official" photos were "officially" released, Toyota PR rep Scott Brownlee tweeted a couple of snapshots to whet our appetites. The result looks, predictably enough, much like the latest LMP1 racers fielded by Audi and the departed Peugeot, but as with most things, it's what's underneath the surface that will count the most. In Toyota's sake, that would be a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain of some sort, but we'll have to wait a little while longer – as the next round of testing and the car's anticipated debut at Spa come May approach – to find out more.