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Toyota Prius to take on Le Mans

Toyota is using its TS 030 as a 320km/h labratory-on-wheels and a way to break down barriers against future cars.

The new hybrid hero is not technically part of the Prius family, but Toyota is using its TS 030 as a 320km/h labratory-on-wheels and a way to break down barriers against future cars.

Toyota is not planning to win in France this year but does intend to lay the foundations for future success at Le Mans with a two-car coupe entry in full factory colours.

But it will not be the only hybrid contender in June, as Audi has just confirmed plans to race a pair of diesel-electric versions of its latest R18 in a four-car effort at Le Mans. It is believed to use a flywheel, similar to the Williams F1 system already used by Porsche in a racing 911, for energy storage.

The new Toyota 030 is also a full hybrid that combines a 3.4-litre V8 racing engine with a hybrid energy storage system to boost power to electric motors at the wheels. The biggest difference between the road and race cars is the storage system - a Prius uses a battery pack and the Toyota racer uses a high-tech capacitor that has greater storage potential and the ability to release energy in a more concerted burst.

"The first year is a testing year, but at the same time, the whole team, including myself, has massive motivation. Even if it is the first year, we are there to win the race," says Kazuki Nakajima, a former Williams F1 driver who heads the driver lineup for Le Mans.

Toyota has fielded cars many times at Le Mans, firstly with the TS 010 and 020 that made the podium in the 1990s, then the GT-One built in Germany by the team that would eventually take Toyota - unsuccessfully - into Formula One.

The 030 hybrid has already been tested extensively ahead of Le Mans but Toyota says it is still assessing the potential drive system.

Race rules mean a maximum of 500 kiloJoules of energy can be recovered under braking - although the capacity of the Toyota system is double that amount - and it can be fed to either the front or rear wheels.

rand Prix cars use their kinetic energy recovery systems to boost drive to the rear wheels but Porsche has turned its 911 into an all-wheel drive racer with electric power to the front wheels, something also being trialled by Toyota.

The Toyota 030 hybrid races for the first time at Spa in Belgium in May and, apart from Nakajima, the six-driver lineup also includes former F1 racer Alex Wurz.