Ex-Formula 1 racer tested Toyota Racing’s new TS030 Hybrid at Paul Ricard yesterday, on a day when the Japanese manufacturer announced Andrea Caldarelli as the squad’s junior driver.
An exponent of Toyota’s Young Driver Programme (TDP), the 21-year-old Caldarelli finished 10th overall in last year’s GP3 Series, despite only competing in four of the sixteen races, earning a podium and three other points finishes. A move to Formula Nippon proved to be less successful for the Italian.
Caldarelli is due to take part in several simulator sessions at Toyota Motorsport’s facility in Cologne. Like most junior driver programmes, Caldarelli’s new position will also require active participation in technical discussions and briefings – essential, as his career moves towards endurance style racing.
However, in a statement released yesterday, the Toyota junior is ready to face this new challenge head-on.
“I am really pleased to be joining Toyota Racing as the junior driver and I expect to gain a lot of invaluable experience. Even though I have been racing cars since 2005, I am still only 21 so there is plenty to learn and this is another milestone in my career.
“I know some of the guys in the team having been part of the TDP scheme for several years so it will be fun to work together again. For a young driver like myself to work as part of such a professional and experienced team will be a big benefit and I am looking forward to learning a lot more about the challenge of endurance racing.”
At the head of Toyota Racing’s WEC drive is former Williams and Benetton Formula 1 pilot, Alexander Wurz.
Having won the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in 1996 with Joest Racing, the Austrian experienced a full career in single-seater racing before returning to the Le Mans Series with Peugeot in 2008.
Wurz signed with Toyota in November and was on track at Paul Ricard yesterday, completing several hundred kilometres of testing in the TS030 Hybrid. Kazuki Nakajima and Nicolas Lapierre will partner the 37-year-old at the wheel of the LMP1 car this season.
Wurz is now a twice winner of the great Le Mans event (he won again in 2009) and while he feels positive about Toyota’s efforts, the Austrian is still somewhat cautious about managing expectations ahead of the Japanese team’s first season in the current LMP1 category.
“It was cool to drive the TS030 Hybrid car for the first time. Just leaving the garage on the electric power is very futuristic, then when you let the clutch go and the internal combustion engine kicks in it is like an old friend has returned!
“When we put on the slick tyre I could feel the car generates a very good amount of grip so I think we have a good base and I think we can turn this into a really fast car.
“I am definitely very happy but my nature is to also be analytical and therefore I know there is still a lot of work to be done. It’s really good to work with all the mechanics and engineers; the Toyota Racing team is very international and this works well. I am very comfortable in this team because they are all extremely professional, that is really clear.”
Wurz is not alone is his cautious approach to the project. Indeed, it is a sentiment shared by Toyota Racing’s Team President, Yoshiaki Kinoshita.
“Of course we would love to win Le Mans; that is the dream for all competitors in this race. But we are realistic and we know we need to develop and to learn in order to compete with some very strong competition.
”Our target this year is to show the performance level of our car and particularly the THS-R powertrain. Hybrid is a core technology of Toyota so it is important to demonstrate this in a motorsport arena and we want to prove it can bring a performance advantage, both in terms of lap time and fuel efficiency.
“Everyone involved in designing, developing and preparing the car – both at TMG and at Motor Sport Division in Japan – has worked incredibly hard to reach this point and we are all very excited to be back on the race track again.”
Despite the rather quiet nature of Toyota Racing’s approach, the manufacturer has decided to enter a second car for the Le Mans 24 Hour Race as they bid to accelerate their hybrid programme.
As it stands, the team will not contest their first WEC event until May, when they are due to appear at the Spa-Francorchamps 6 Hours.
Following last week’s shock withdrawal of Peugeot from endurance competition, Toyota will almost certainly be facing a new level of scrutiny as publications and broadcast crews pull together stories to present to the public.
Irrespective of their efforts, the LMP1 category may well be something of a write off this year should Audi now go unchallenged to the title, but don’t count Toyota out for 2013-14 and beyond.
Once rooted into the category, the Japanese manufacturer will be keen to show that they can be a force in the WEC and it is not beyond the powers of possibility that Andrea Caldarelli may be the face of that squad in years to come.