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After a crushing defeat last year, will 2017 finally be Toyota’s year at Le Mans?

Toyota is once again aiming for overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after a heartbreaking defeat last year. The Japanese automaker unveiled its upgraded TS050 Hybrid race car ahead of pre-season testing for the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Can the new car give the Toyota team the victory that slipped through its grasp in 2016?

In one of the most dramatic Le Mans finishes in recent memory, the leading Toyota ground to a halt with only minutes left in the race, allowing Porsche to take yet another victory. The fault was later traced to a minor component.

“What happened at Le Mans last year was painful so we gave extra attention to quality management,” Pascal Vasselon, technical director of Toyota Gazoo Racing, said in a statement. Toyota also made major design changes, including a new 2.4-liter turbocharged V6 engine, and new electric motor-generator units that are both smaller and lighter than before. Tweaks were also made to the aerodynamics package and the TS050’s lithium-ion battery pack.

For 2017, all of the cars in the top LMP1 class remain hybrids, using internal combustion engines as their main power source, with energy-recovery systems that can provide short electric power boosts. But the number of teams in this high-tech battle is down from three to two. Audi dropped out at the end of last season, ending an 18-year stint that included 13 Le Mans victories.

That leaves just Toyota and Porsche. The German automaker has won Le Mans a record 18 times, while its Japanese competitor has never won the prestigious endurance race. If not for that technical gremlin, Toyota almost certainly would have won in 2016, giving Porsche something to think about this year. The Porsche-Toyota duel should be pretty exciting to watch, as Porsche looks to defend its title, and Toyota looks to erase last year’s crushing defeat.

Toyota is hitting the ground running. It says the TS050 has already completed over 18,500 miles of testing this year, including four 30-hour endurance tests. If Toyota wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, it will only be the second Japanese automaker to do so. Mazda won in 1991 with its rotary-engine 787B.

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Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
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