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Toyota appoints new WEC LMP1 team president

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Toyota has appointed Hisatake Murata as the new president of its LMP1 team in the FIA World Endurance Championship as it plans for life after Porsche in the series.

Murata has worked with Toyota since 1987 in a variety of roles, being part of its WEC efforts since the formation of the championship in 2012.

Murata will take over with immediate effect from Toshio Sato, who has been relocated to Toyota’s powertrain division.

“I am proud to take this new role at TMG [Toyota Motorsport]. Since the beginning of our hybrid LMP1 project, I have built up a strong relationship with TMG members so I am looking forward to working together even more closely as we push to succeed in all areas,” Murata said.

“I would like to sincerely thank Sato for his leadership of TMG since 2015 and wish him all the best in his new position.”

Murata’s appointment comes just one week after Porsche announced its decision to close its LMP1 program at the end of 2017, leaving Toyota as the sole manufacturer in the class for 2018.

While details regarding Toyota’s involvement in the championship next year remain unclear, Murata’s appointment suggests there is some kind of future for its LMP1 program.

PWC: Toyota’s TMG 86 Cup car to make debut at Utah in TCA

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Pirelli World Challenge has a wealth of manufacturer involvement, but one of the brands that hasn’t been a part of the series is Toyota. In a couple weeks at the Utah Motorsports Campus though, that will change.

Toyota’s TMG 86 Cup car will make a guest entry into PWC’s TCA class with driver Craig Stanton, a sports car veteran.

Toyota’s full release is below.

When you think of the Toyota 86, the car’s nimble handling and performance come to mind, but Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) takes the car to another level with its TMG 86 Cup Car. And now the potent sports car will make its North American debut in the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) racing series at Utah Motorsports Campus in August.

Entered in the TCA class, the 86 Cup Car will do battle in the PWC’s double-header race weekend outside of Salt Lake City in Tooele on August 11-13.

“Bringing the TMG 86 Cup Car to Pirelli World Challenge presents an opportunity to test and showcase the ability of our Toyota 86 in a competitive racing series,” said Keith Dahl, General Manager, Motorsports for Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). “The seasoned DG-Spec team won the PWC title for Scion in 2010 and we’re hopeful they can perform well with the 86. We have a great combination of team and driver with Craig Stanton to showcase the ability of this TMG-built 86, so we’re cautiously optimistic for solid results in the Utah double-header.”

The TMG 86 Cup Car will be driven by veteran road racer Craig Stanton, a former GRAND-AM Rolex SportsCar Series GT and Continental Tire GS class champion with over 30 years of driving experience, and fielded by the Dan Gardner Spec (DG-Spec) Racing team. DG-Spec previously won the Pirelli World Challenge TC class championship with the Scion tC in 2010 and has also competed in GRAND-AM and other sports car and endurance series.

“It’s been a while since we raced in Pirelli World Challenge with our championship-winning Scion, but we’ve been at the track constantly over the last few years, testing, developing and racing in other venues,” said Dan Gardner, team owner and namesake of DG-Spec. “The team is really sharp and Craig is on his game. The Toyota 86 is ready to go and we hope to turn some heads in Utah.”

Gardner’s team recently won One Lap of America in the Toyota Sienna R-Tuned in 2016, and has provided support for programs such as the Land Speed Cruiser and Rally RAV4. The Rally RAV4 team of Ryan Millen and Rhianon Gelsomino recently clinched the American Rally Association’s 2WD championship.

The current 86 harkens back to Toyota’s history of sports cars and enthusiast motorsports. When the Corolla AE86 was launched in the United States in the 1980s, it earned a deep enthusiast following, while the car was simultaneously building a cult following in Japan as a drift vehicle. The 2017 Toyota 86 pays homage to the legendary car of the past, while proving itself to be an athletic star today in its own right.

“Our Toyota 86 is a potent car right out of the box, but it gets even hotter with a full lineup of TRD parts and accessories,” said Preston Dyer, National Marketing Manager of Parts and Accessories for TMNA. “TRD gets its inspiration where it counts – on the track – and we couldn’t think of a better way to demonstrate that performance than by entering our TMG 86 Cup Car in Pirelli World Challenge.”

The decision to enter the TMG 86 Cup Car in PWC was birthed in the success of another Toyota 86. After a stock 86 with TRD parts and accessories bested the entire field at the local Spring Fling Autocross event in Southern California in March, Toyota officials began looking for additional opportunities to highlight the prowess of the Toyota sports car that also competes in Formula Drift.

The TMG 86 Cup Car, an enhanced, production model developed by TMG for the GT86 Cup, part of the VLN Series in Germany, had been making the auto show circuit as part of a Toyota 86 display when the idea was hatched to enter the nimble, stock race car in PWC’s TCA class. The TMG 86 Cup car is a production Toyota 86 prepared by TMG for racing competition. The TMG 86 Cup Car features a stock 86 engine and transmission, as well as TMG upgrades to the vehicle’s suspension, brakes and engine tuning, among other changes that include safety equipment for racing.

The PWC Utah event will mark the debut entry by a TMG 86 Cup Car in a North American competition. The TMG 86 Cup Car is only scheduled to compete in both PWC events at Utah Motorsports Campus.

Toyota ‘sad and disappointed’ by Porsche’s LMP1 exit

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda says he is “sad and disappointed” that Porsche will be ending its LMP1 program at the end of the year, leaving the Japanese marque as the sole manufacturer in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s premier class.

Porsche announced early on Friday that it would be pulling the plug on its LMP1 operation following this year’s season finale in Bahrain, switching focus to Formula E, where it will race from 2019.

Toyota and Porsche have battled for top honors in the WEC since 2014, leaving Toyoda with a heavy heart after hearing the news.

“I felt that it was very unfortunate when I heard that Porsche decided to withdraw from the LMP1 category of the WEC racing series,” Toyoda said in a statement.

“At last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race, we were honored that Porsche considered Toyota as a rival. It was a great battle as we fought against each other for victory.

“Looking towards this year’s series, we aimed to rise to and even surpass Porsche’s challenge. Those thoughts drove us to work harder and put forth our best efforts in realizing new technologies and skills.

“At this year’s Le Mans, I again had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Porsche. He told me that, much like us, his company participates in motorsport to enhance its production cars. As a carmaker that has been doing such for a very long time, Porsche deserves a great deal of respect.

“I feel very sad and disappointed that we will no longer be able to pit our technologies against such a company on the same battleground next year.

“However, the fight is not yet over. We will continue to battle with all our strength in the remaining five races of this year.

“Let’s make it an amazing competition that will remain in the hearts of the teams as well as of the fans.

“I am full of gratitude to Porsche, but I will save my thanks for when the season is over. At that time, I wonder which of us will be congratulating the other.

“Let’s look forward to that moment as we continue to fight. To everyone at Porsche, we’ll see you on the track!”

FIA WEC: Toyota captures 6 Hours of Nurburgring pole

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While Toyota Gazoo Racing took the pole owing to ultimate pace with its low downforce configuration Toyota TS050 Hybrid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, courtesy of a single lap record from Kamui Kobayashi, pole for Sunday’s FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Nürburgring in high downforce spec was a bit more of a surprise.

Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez delivered the top spot in LMP1 and overall for the team not far from its Cologne, Germany headquarters in Saturday’s qualifying session with an average best time of 1:38.118. That put it just clear of the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley at 1:38.272.

With Toyota near its team headquarters and looking to return to winning after the No. 8 car won the first two races at Silverstone and Spa, and with Porsche’s No. 2 of Bernhard, Hartley and Earl Bamber having won at Le Mans but now racing on its home soil, it’s an interesting fight ahead on Sunday.

Although the TDS Racing-run No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson took the LMP2 pole at 1:45.001, it’ll face a steep uphill battle in the race. Roman Rusinov was assessed a three-minute in-race penalty to be served Sunday for his driving infringement at Le Mans, having taken out Khaled Al Qubaisi’s Porsche 911 RSR at the Porsche Curves there.

Rusinov shares the car with Pierre Thiriet and Ben Hanley, the latter driver standing in for Alex Lynn, who himself is replacing Lopez at the FIA Formula E Championship race weekend at the New York City ePrix.

This promotes the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca to net pole at 1:45.197 in the hands of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent. The LMP2 class winners and second place overall finishers now seek their third win in four FIA WEC races this year. Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 Oreca of Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Filipe Albuquerque, the car having been repaired after contact with a GT car yesterday, qualified third.

Porsche’s mid-engined 911 RSR took its first FIA World Endurance Championship pole in GTE-Pro with the No. 92 car of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, one week after the new car took its first overall pole in IMSA courtesy of Dirk Werner at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Aston Martin Racing won the GTE-Am pole with Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy sharing the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, in a car that will also feature Mathias Lauda in the lineup.

Sunday’s six-hour race begins at 7 a.m. ET.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Overall, LMP1/LMP2, GTE-Pro/GTE-Am

Bizarre 2017 Le Mans adds new twist: Driver mistaken as marshal

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The 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans ended two days ago but has had two post-script items that only add to the bizarre nature of this year’s race.

On Monday, it was the disqualification of Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 13 Oreca 07 Gibson from an overall podium (third place) and second in LMP2 following bodywork modification to address a starter issue.

On Tuesday, it’s the emergence of video to show a driver in a nearly identical firesuit to that of a pit lane or corner marshal giving a thumbs up to Kamui Kobayashi’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid under a safety car period that may have led to the Toyota’s eventual clutch failure.

Via Eurosport, it shows Kobayashi’s car stopped at pit out with a pit lane marshal in the background. Meanwhile after a couple seconds, Vincent Capillaire, an LMP2 class driver in the So24! and FLEX-BOX backed No. 45 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson, emerged from his pit garage to give Kobayashi a thumbs up.

However the Japanese driver appeared to mistake that sign of encouragement as an OK to leave the pit lane and return to the race course. The orange and black firesuit Capillaire had on was almost identical to the marshal’s, albeit with the FLEX-BOX black bar and branding a little lower on the suit.

Under a safety car period at Le Mans, any car that pits is held at pit out with a red light, until a green light flashes to be released. This is different from the slow zones that have become a recent staple of this race, which help prevent full safety car periods where the full 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe is slowed. Unless a slow zone is present on the front straight, there are no pit lane restrictions and drivers can enter and exit pit lane in a normal manner.

Capillaire attempted to explain his action on his Facebook page.

“Saturday evening, during the race, I was waiting for my relay, helmet on the head at my box,” Capillaire said, with the French translated to English.

“I wanted to show my encouragement to the leader car, stopped at red light a few meters in front of my box. .
It was a spontaneous encouragement mark as it happens between pilots.

“I was fined by Stewards for this gesture and I admit it was inopportune. I regret that.”

Kobayashi had started and stopped his car multiple times as a result; the clutch issue that followed came as an apparent result of this issue.

“The problem is that he was at the pit exit, so he was in pit mode where we started in electric, which is like the car was, he was in a mode which normally should not be used, so he has done several restarts with the clutch and the combustion engine,” Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon told Sportscar365, and later expanded that this burned up the clutch.

Capillaire, one of the youngest drivers in the field in American teenager Matt McMurry (19; turns 20 in November) and the oldest driver in the field in U.S.-based South African Mark Patterson (65), finished 16th in the 25-car LMP2 class and 33rd on the road of the 49 cars that finished and 60 that started, though will move up one position as a result of the Rebellion disqualification from Monday.

Toyota, meanwhile, could only feel regret after yet another lost opportunity.

“We will analyze what went wrong because we cannot accept a double retirement like that during the night,” team president Toshio Sato said in the team’s post-race release.

“We will come back stronger and more determined than ever; our Le Mans challenge will continue.”