Pascal Vasselon (Toyota): "Next season will be even more challenging."

Pascal Vasselon (Toyota): "Next season will be even more challenging."

Despite the arrival of new competitors in the Hypercar category next year, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is staying its course. Team technical director Pascal Vasselon speaks of consistency in perfecting the Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar, expecting the 2024 season to prove even more demanding than ever.

Let’s revisit the 24 Hours of Le Mans Centenary first. The #8 Toyota hit a squirrel during the race. What were the consequences of that unfortunate collision?

The contact occurred when Ryo Hirakawa was behind the wheel. The first consequence was a drop in downforce at the front of the car. That's what led us to take a look at the on-board footage and figure out what happened. We calculated the loss at around two seconds per lap which lasted for half a stint, 10 seconds in all, forcing us to change the front of the car as the decrease in pace was too significant. That amounted to an additional 15 seconds. So, this poor little squirrel cost us a total of 25 seconds.

Shortly before the chequered flag, Ryo Hirakawa struck a guardrail at the Arnage Corner while chasing down the #51 Ferrari. What did you say to him after the race?

That was one of the toughest moments of the entire race. We opted not to talk about the incident with Ryo right away given how affected he was by it. We had to give him time to shake it off. We debriefed him later in an effort to identify areas for improvement. When something like that occurs during a race, it is almost never solely the driver's fault. Yes, he was partially responsible due to less than ideal braking pressure relative to the car's balance in that corner, but it is also true that during previous stints it had been modified and moved to the rear to a point which was perhaps excessive. That had been managed by Brendon Hartley and we failed to inform and brief Ryo about it adequately. That's how he ended up with improper entry speed and brake pressure. Our goal, above all, was then to understand what happened and define procedures for the future in order to avoid that type of situation. Ryo had made zero mistakes at the wheel during any race until then. He has never been involved in a dust-up. It truly was the first time this sort of incident had happened to him, so it wasn't difficult to remind him of all of the great performances he's given since he joined the team in 2022. We were able to restore his confidence relatively quickly.

"It was particularly important to us to prove our wins were no fluke."
Pascal Vasselon, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

Despite tough competition, you were able to retain your FIA Endurance Hypercar Manufacturers title in 2023. Does that prove your success these last several years is no accident?

Yes and that's what we wanted to show. We've won repeatedly during previous seasons, but there was always a reluctance from certain people to give our performances credit as we were deemed not to have faced enough competition. The fact is, Alpine and Glickenhaus already provided more than respectable opposition. We knew with the big names arriving in 2023, the wins would carry more weight, even twice as much insofar as they would also validate and give credibility to those of previous years. So, it was particularly important to us to prove our wins were no fluke. I'll even say we were especially driven after the 24 Hours of Le Mans to show we should have won.

2024 will welcome newcomers Alpine, BMW, Lamborghini and Isotta Fraschini to the Hypercar category. What is your game plan for the increased level of competition?

Our plan is exactly the same as in preceding years. In motorsport, there is a recurring principle: never underestimate your competition. We aren't going to completely change how we do things just because there will be additional competitors in 2024. We have always considered our rivals as extremely competent, including during transition seasons. We are continuously improving the performance level and reliability of our cars. Next season will be even more challenging, but we aren't out to reinvent the wheel.

At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota presented the GR H2 Racing Concept, marking your commitment to a category dedicated to hydrogen cars. It must be an exciting project for your team and for you as Technical Director.

This programme goes well beyond the fun it provides technical teams. It is simply crucial for the future of endurance racing and motorsport in general. It is essential we head toward carbon neutrality. Hydrogen is one of the options available to car racing.

Can you give us more details about the project?

The project is entirely aligned with the guidelines provided by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. We are working to put a hydrogen car on the track in 2027 for its first season. That's our goal. We will also make it our mission to have a rolling demonstrator before 2027 to show the project is well underway and that we have already reached certain milestones.

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