Toyota Gazoo Racing Technical Director Pascal Vasselon gave Racing24-7.net alongside other media quite a bit of time, answering some of the questions ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
Of course there was a lot of questions surrounding the gaps between the hybrid cars and the non-hybrid cars.
So the first question was; is the gap to the privateer what you expected?
“The honest answer is that I have no clue what’s going on. It’s work in progress. Who knows if we are seeing the real pace of everyone. So we have to trust the FIA, and let’s see what happens. It’s a difficult exercise. It’s very difficult to be spot on immediately, and again, did we see the real pace of everyone – I simply don’t know. I cannot answer.
“It’s important to understand, that with the same rule book (as in 2017, editor), we would have had much more advantage. We know where we are, and our advantage has been cut short. How much is needed – work in progress.”
But at this season, in the FIA WEC and at Le Mans, you can pretty much only lose.
“Yes, that is a good analysis. If we win it’s normal, and if we lose it would be a story. At the end, this is a situation that is not our fault.”
Is it possible to cheat with the Equivalence Of Technology?
“The FIA nowadays has a lot of data. In the past, the rule makes, the governing body only had laptimes and assumptions. Now we send to FIA, a huge amount of measuring channels, so they have a lot of information. For example, if a driver is lifting on the back straight, it’s visible. If an engine is not delivering its supposed power, it’s visible. So, I can not answer your question completely, but there are a lot of data available, to assess. Obvious sandbagging would be visible.”
Can we really imagine a battle at Le Mans between you, with your experience and budgets, compared to the others.
“Everything is possible. We are not exactly in the same category, obviously. We are running a hybrid car, we are running different rule book. So we are not exactly the same category from the technical side. From the sporting side, we are in the same category – and yeah, there may be a fight.”
A display in the cockpit was seen at Spa, with a rear view camera. Is that because you perhaps expect to be overtaken on the straights due to the higher top speed of the LMP1 privateers?
“Yes, it’s new this year. This year we have been testing with it, but raced it at Spa for the first time. This camera is needed to cover basically all the space, where the drivers must be able to see things, and it’s assessed by the regulations. So when we checked that, the technical delegate running behind the car with numbers, and the driver has to be able to read that. We need this camera to cover the angle of view, that is requested.”
Has Fernando Alonso brought something to the team, other than just his name and a lot of media attention?
“He did not come here to dictate anything, because he knows that he has to learn the category. Nevertheless, he is learning very quickly, and he comes with a very interesting angle of view, considering his hybrid experience in F1. So he has the experience of the other hybrid in F1, and it’s quite interesting to merge. Basically what we know from this car, and what he knows from that car. I know him since 2000, so I didn’t discover anything new,” Vasselon said and broke into a laugh.
Last year you spend two hours in the pits changing a front motor. Have you done anything to be able to change it faster this year?
“No, because it will take a long time to change it. We can’t make it faster. What we have done, is making sure that it doesn’t fail. The hybrid components are extremely reliable. We do 30.000 kilometres with most of the hybrid components. For 6000 kilometres, it’s not an issue – if the quality is OK! Every time we had an issue with elements of the hybrid system, 2014 and last year, it was a quality issue. So definitely we have to focus on there being no mistake in the build up. This year we have changed the cooling a bit – the cooling distribution. We needed a bit more engine cooling. This is the main change that we have done on the power train – the battery is the same. It’s very reliable – hopefully!”
“We had a very good winter season (2017, editor) – we did 35.000 kilometres without any major issue, and we face the first issue at Le Mans. And then the team was not completely prepared to that. This year we have done it differently. We knew that the reliability was fundamentally there, so we did not need to improve that. So we were focused on solving problems. We have invented problems, caused problems, so the team was informed that the right rear drive shaft had broken, and they had to change that. We have the exercise to bring back the car on three wheels. We have basically faked failure of most of the components. During the 30 hour test, we had about 15 or 17 parts changes that were fake.
“We have developed a mode to bring back the car no matter what, like if the engine has failed, to bring back the car on the hybrid system, for example.”
Has there been some changes on the team side over the winter? We have noticed that Hughes de Chaunac isn’t wearing a Toyota team shirt. He is more focussed on the ORECA/Rebellion programme.
“We still have a collaboration with ORECA, with very defined people, with the operation overall. It’s true that Hughes isn’t here, but he has never had any direct role in the team. As now that he is a manufacturer with Rebellion, naturally he is taking care of that. It doesn’t change at all the operation – Hughes was never in the operation of the team.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing finished 1-2 at the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, beating all the non-hybrid privateer teams comprehensively. The ACO and the FIA are trying something new on the test day tomorrow, to collect as much data as possible, prior to the race week, so there hopefully won’t been too much moaning and/or adjustments of the EOT in the race week.