Over 250,000 spectators will witness the 83rd running of the famous race around the 13.629km Circuit de la Sarthe, which is part public roads and part race track, with four LMP1 manufacturers doing battle to win the world’s oldest endurance race.
World Champion TOYOTA enters two TS040 HYBRID cars, both featuring Le Mans-specification aerodynamics designed to reduce drag and optimise top speeds on a circuit where cars exceed 330km/h. Compared to the car seen already this season, the visible differences are on the rear wing, engine cover and front bodywork.
The #1 car sees drivers’ World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi joined by Kazuki Nakajima, who earned pole position for Le Mans last year with the fastest lap of any qualifying session.
Kazuki returns to racing after a rapid recovery from a back injury sustained in practice for the Spa-Francorchamps race at the beginning of May. His recovery was confirmed with a trouble-free test on 31 May and he will race in his fourth Le Mans.
In the #2 car, two-time winner Alex Wurz is joined by three-time pole position man Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway in his second start at La Sarthe, his first in LMP1.
This year marks a special anniversary for TOYOTA as it represents 30 years since the company’s first official entry at Le Mans. Coincidentally, that original 1985 entry featured Satoru Nakajima, the father of current racer Kazuki.
The 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours is the 17th time TOYOTA cars have entered the race over the past 30 years. Throughout the past 16 attempts, 40 separate cars have raced, with a best finish of second place (1992, 1994, 1999 and 2013). During that time, drivers such as ex-Formula 1 World Champion Alan Jones, F1 race winner Eddie Irvine and three-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish have driven TOYOTAs.
A year ago, the #7 of Alex, Stéphane and Kazuki started on pole and led for most of the race before an electrical problem forced its retirement, while the #8 of Anthony, Sébastien and Nicolas Lapierre recovered superbly from an accident to finish third.
A difficult start to the 2015 season means TOYOTA travels to Le Mans searching for a first win of the year, knowing both cars face tough competition in the hotly-contested LMP1 category.
But thorough preparation and knowledge of the unique demands of Le Mans, as well as a positive test day last Sunday, mean the team heads to La Sarthe quietly hopeful that it will be a contender in the fight for honours.
As an event, Le Mans is a true endurance challenge, with almost 35 hours of driving until the chequered flag waves, starting on Wednesday 10 June with a four-hour practice session at 16.00 before two hours of qualifying begin at 22.00.
Qualifying continues on Thursday with a two more 120-minute sessions (19.00 & 22.00). The starting grid is decided by the fastest single lap from any of the qualifying sessions.
The traditional drivers parade in the city centre on Friday afternoon gives fans a unique chance to meet the drivers before race weekend, which begins with a 45-minute warm-up at 09.00. The race starts at 15.00 on Saturday.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “First of all, I speak for the whole team in saying how happy we are that Kazuki has recovered and can race with us at Le Mans. This shows his determination and spirit. Now our team is complete and we can take on the Le Mans challenge together. We have been preparing for Le Mans for almost a year so we are ready and motivated. The first two races did not go to plan so the team has worked incredibly hard back in Cologne to get the maximum performance from our Le Mans package. It has been a big effort and we hope it pays off at Le Mans. We do not start Le Mans as favourites but that does not affect our focus or our attitude. We will give everything for this race, with a target of zero mistakes and minimal time in the pits; I believe that with this approach we can challenge at the front. You can never guarantee anything in motorsport but we feel well prepared and I hope we can show this in the race.”
Anthony Davidson (TS040 HYBRID #1)
Born 18 April 1979, Hemel Hempstead, Great Britain
Le Mans debut 2003
Le Mans starts 7
Le Mans best result 2nd (2013)
“I am absolutely ready for Le Mans this year. I think winning the World Championship last year helps because I feel I’ve proved what I needed to in endurance. It meant really so much, not just for me, for the whole team as well. Obviously you want to win everything and Le Mans is something I really want on my CV; it’s a challenge I want to overcome. It’s a fickle race which you can’t control; you can’t go there with a plan and expect everything to run smoothly. It just happens or it doesn’t and unfortunately I haven’t been lucky enough to win it yet. I’m much more relaxed this year and we go to Le Mans as underdogs so maybe that’s when it will finally happen for us.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS040 HYBRID #1)
Born 31 October 1988, Aigle, Switzerland
Le Mans debut 2012
Le Mans starts 3
Le Mans best result 2nd (2013)
“Le Mans is always a special moment in the season; being part of this unique race is always magical. The start of the race is a very special moment for me; there’s a big adrenaline rush and you fully understand that we are racing here in Le Mans. There are so many emotions. This year, we are in the role of underdogs so we have to take up that challenge and give it our best shot. Everyone is working very hard to reduce the gap with our rivals but Le Mans is a race like no other; there can be many surprises. We still hope to be at the front at the chequered flag; it’s a long week and a long race so let’s see what happens.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS040 HYBRID #1)
Born 11 January 1985, Okazaki, Japan
Le Mans debut 2012
Le Mans starts 3
Le Mans best result 4th (2013)
“I have already won my first race this season; recovering my fitness in time for Le Mans. I want to say a huge thanks to the doctors in Verviers and Nice, plus the team physios who have performed miracles to get me ready for Le Mans. Without their hard work, I could not have done it. Last year I got the pole position which was a special moment but not my main goal, which is of course to win. We unfortunately didn’t achieve that so of course it is my dream for this year, even if we know it will be difficult. Everyone is really motivated and positive; we know from last year that there are no certainties at Le Mans so we hope to cause a surprise.”
Alex Wurz (TS040 HYBRID #2)
Born 15 February 1974, Waidhofen an der Thaya, Austria
Le Mans debut 1996
Le Mans starts 8
Le Mans best result 1st (1996 & 2009)
“Le Mans is finally here; this is the moment we been working towards for the past year. It’s the focal point of our racing season and, of course, an incredibly cool event with so much history. I have raced at Le Mans enough times to know that this race is full of surprises and nothing can be guaranteed in advance. The most important point is to focus on what we can control; find the right set-up for our car, get the right strategy and make no mistakes. This year we might not enter the race as favourites, unlike last year, but the race is long, mighty and brutal, so let’s see who is where after 24 hours.”
Stéphane Sarrazin (TS040 HYBRID #2)
Born 2 November 1975, Alès, France
Le Mans debut 2001
Le Mans starts 13
Le Mans best result 2nd (2007, 2009 & 2013)
“Le Mans is an incredible, legendary race; the highlight of the year for me. The atmosphere and fans are amazing. When I am on the grid before the start of the race, with all the spectators in the grandstands, some of them shouting my name, and the French flags flying, this is a very special feeling. I can’t believe this is my fourth Le Mans with TOYOTA; I have the feeling it was yesterday! Winning Le Mans has always been my goal and my wish is that 2015 can be the year. Everyone is pushing to the maximum and we will give everything, then we see what Le Mans will bring for us.”
Mike Conway (TS040 HYBRID #2)
Born 19 August 1983, Sevenoaks, Great Britain
Le Mans debut 2013
Le Mans starts 1
Le Mans best result n/a
“I’ve experienced Le Mans just once before but that was enough to know it is a very cool event with a unique atmosphere. During the week you can really feel how it’s all getting busier and building up to the big race. When you’re part of that, it’s very special; the only event I’ve been part of that is in any way similar is the Indianapolis 500. The race itself is long and gruelling but when you’re in the car, that’s when you’re feeling at your best. I work really hard on my fitness so I feel ready and I’m looking forward to the challenge. We’re a strong team and I know everyone has done their maximum to prepare; now I can’t wait for it to start.”