Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) is delighted to confirm that Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima will share its new hybrid LMP1 car in selected World Endurance Championship races, including the Le Mans 24 Hours.
TMG will work intensely with all three drivers to learn more about the specific demands of endurance racing, as well as continuously developing the car. In the near future, this will include sessions on TMG’s driving simulator, which already features the Le Mans track and an LMP1 vehicle model.
Each driver has significant experience at the top level of international motorsport and they have been selected to help the team develop during what is expected to be a learning season in 2012.
The length of the respective contracts remains undisclosed.
One car will be entered in selected rounds, although the final identity of the team and its race schedule remain under discussion.
All three drivers are expected to drive the hybrid LMP1 car for the first time at the roll-out, which will take place early in the new year at an as-yet-unconfirmed European venue.
As a two-time Le Mans winner and multiple Formula 1 podium finisher, Alex Wurz is famed for his technical ability, speed and consistency.
His excellence in single-seater racing inevitably led to the top and he proved his talents in endurance racing as early as 1996, when he won the Le Mans 24 Hours at the first attempt and became the youngest-ever winner, a record which still stands.
After more than a decade in Formula 1, both as a combative racer and trusted tester, Le Mans beckoned again. Another outright win in 2009 combined with victory in the Sebring 12 Hours at his first attempt while triumphs at the Spa 1,000km and Petit Le Mans further enhanced his reputation.
Alex Wurz: “As soon as I heard about the possibility to join the team I was instantly excited and keen to be involved. I love endurance racing and I have been a fan of Le Mans since my childhood so I have great memories of Toyotas competing there, particularly the GT-One which was a really sexy, cool-looking car. As an ambitious Le Mans racer, this heritage combined with the immense technical capabilities at TMG makes a very attractive combination. So I am extremely happy to be involved, along with Nicolas and Kazuki. One of the most important things in endurance racing is the connection between the drivers. If the drivers are working together it is a very productive situation for the team and ultimately improves lap times and results. Nicolas has shown his speed while I really rate Kazuki as a person and a driver so I think we will be a strong team. I can’t wait to get started and I am fascinated by the new challenge of competing with a hybrid car. It is the future of racing so I am very excited that Toyota comes in with this technology. I know Toyota has a lot of expertise in this area and I hope this plays to our advantage.”
As a well-qualified single-seater driver, with GP2 races wins complimenting the 2006 A1 Grand Prix championship, Nicolas Lapierre moved into endurance racing in 2007.
He has quickly established himself as a leading light with wins in 1,000km races at Portimao and Silverstone before this year’s victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Nicolas Lapierre: “To be selected by a company like Toyota for such a new and interesting project is a proud moment for me. We are at the beginning of a big challenge and I am very excited. TMG has some very impressive capabilities and, together with the hybrid system, we have the potential to develop a really strong car. I am interested to experience the hybrid system for the first time; this adds a different aspect to our challenge and we have to consider some different strategic factors. It’s great to be involved at the beginning with this technology and I hope it will give us a performance advantage. I’m also pleased to be part of such a strong driver line-up. I raced against Kazuki in GP2; he is definitely a fast driver and also a good team player, which is very important in endurance racing. Alex is a two-time Le Mans winner so he is a great benchmark for us, but he is also able to build a strong team spirit. I believe the choice of drivers is very good and I am looking forward to working together as a team.”
Kazuki Nakajima is a successful graduate of the Toyota Young Drivers’ Programme, having enjoyed race-winning successes in Formula 3 and GP2 on his way to Formula 1, initially as test driver before progressing to a race seat.
He stood out as a mature and determined driver despite an extremely tough environment, so it is no surprise he has immediately returned to winning ways in Formula Nippon.
Kazuki Nakajima: “I am thrilled to have been chosen to become a member of Toyota’s World Endurance Championship team. To return to Le Mans, and to take part in this new championship, means a lot to Toyota so I am very honoured to be a part of it. Le Mans will be a new experience for me but it is one I am very much looking forward to. The challenge of Le Mans is famous throughout motorsport so I can’t wait to race there for the first time. Obviously it is a new experience but I am familiar with endurance racing thanks to my time in Japanese Super GT and this will help me to adjust. It’s great to join such a strong driver line-up, especially because I am already familiar with both of my new team-mates, having worked with Alex in Formula 1 and raced against Nicolas in GP2. I am looking forward to working closely with Alex and Nicolas; I want to learn about Le Mans from them and I hope I will be able to do a good job.”