Toyota recruits top drivers for new Le Mans program

Toyota is dead serious about its new Le Mans effort. To that end, the Japanese auto giant is developing an all-new hybrid LMP1 racer, it has retained the considerable services of Team Oreca to help with trackside logistics, and it has now announced its driver lineup. And make no mistake about it, these are no rookies.

Headlining the roster is Alex Wurz, who holds the title as the youngest winner in the history of Le Mans. The Austrian driver won again for Peugeot two years ago, and he has also taken the checkered flag at the Petit Le Mans, the Spa 1,000km and the Sebring 12 Hours, to name just a few. And as if that weren't enough, he's also an accomplished former Formula One driver, having driven for and scored podium finishes for a variety of teams including Benetton, McLaren and Williams (though not Toyota).

Joining Wurz will be Nicolas Lapierre, a French driver with a distinguished record in both lower formula racing (like F3 and A1GP) and endurance racing, including a win at Sebring this year. Finally, Toyota has added Kazuki Nakajima (one of Japan's best F1 drivers of the modern era) to the team that will be developing and fielding the new LMP1 at La Sarthe and other FIA World Endurance Championship races next season. The car is expected to make its debut "early in the new year" at a yet-to-be-determined European venue.
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Driver Line-up for FIA World Endurance Championship in 2012

Tokyo, Japan, November 7, 2011 - Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announces that Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima will share its new hybrid LMP1 car in selected World Endurance Championship races, including the Le Mans 24 Hours.

All three drivers will also work to learn more about the specific demands of endurance racing, as well as to continuously develop the car. In the near future, this will include sessions on Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG)'s driving simulator, which already features the Le Mans track and an LMP1 vehicle model.

All three drivers are expected to drive the hybrid LMP1 car for the first time at the roll-out, which will take place early in the new year at an as-yet-unconfirmed European venue.

The drivers made the following statements;

Alex Wurz:

"As soon as I heard about the possibility to join the team I was instantly excited and keen to be involved. I love endurance racing and I have been a fan of Le Mans since my childhood so I have great memories of Toyotas competing there, particularly the GT-One which was a really sexy, cool-looking car. As an ambitious Le Mans racer, this heritage combined with the immense technical capabilities at TMG makes a very attractive combination. So I am extremely happy to be involved, along with Nicolas and Kazuki. One of the most important things in endurance racing is the connection between the drivers. If the drivers are working together it is a very productive situation for the team and ultimately improves lap times and results. Nicolas has shown his speed while I really rate Kazuki as a person and a driver so I think we will be a strong team. I can't wait to get started and I am fascinated by the new challenge of competing with a hybrid car. It is the future of racing so I am very excited that Toyota comes in with this technology. I know Toyota has a lot of expertise in this area and I hope this plays to our advantage."

Nicolas Lapierre:

"To be selected by a company like Toyota for such a new and interesting project is a proud moment for me. We are at the beginning of a big challenge and I am very excited. TMG has some very impressive capabilities and, together with the hybrid system, we have the potential to develop a really strong car.

I raced against Kazuki in GP2; he is definitely a fast driver and also a good team player, which is very important in endurance racing. Alex is a two-time Le Mans winner so he is a great benchmark for us, but he is also able to build a strong team spirit. I believe the choice of drivers is very good and I am looking forward to working together as a team."

Kazuki Nakajima:

"I am thrilled to have been chosen to become a member of Toyota's World Endurance Championship team. Le Mans will be a new experience for me but it is one I am very much looking forward to. The challenge of Le Mans is famous throughout motorsport so I can't wait to race there for the first time. Obviously it is a new experience but I am familiar with endurance racing thanks to my time in Japanese Super GT and this will help me to adjust. It's great to join such a strong driver line-up, especially because I am already familiar with both of my new team-mates, having worked with Alex in Formula 1 and raced against Nicolas in GP2. I am looking forward to working closely with Alex and Nicolas; I want to learn about Le Mans from them and I hope I will be able to do a good job."

Alex Wurz Profile

Born 15 February 1974, Waidhofen an der Thaya, Austria
Height 1.87m
Weight 79kg
Best achievement Youngest Le Mans winner (1996)

Career History
1986 BMX World Championship: 1st
BMX European Championship: 2nd
1989 Austrian Kart Championship: 2nd
1991 European Formula Ford Cup: 2nd
Austrian Formula Ford Championship: 2nd
1992 European Formula Ford Cup: 1st,
Austrian Formula Ford Championship: 1st
German Formula Ford Championship: 1st
1993 Austrian Formula 3 Championship: 1st
1994-95 German Formula 3 Championship
1996 Le Mans 24 Hours (Team Joest): 1st
International Touring Car Championship (Opel): 16th
1997 Formula 1 (Benetton): 14th, FIA GT Championship (AMG Mercedes): 10th
Formula 1 (Benetton)
1998-2000 Formula 1 (McLaren): Third driver
2001-05 Formula 1 (McLaren): 17th (one race)
2006-07 Formula 1 (Williams)
2008 Formula 1 (Honda): Reserve driver
2009 Le Mans 24 Hours (Peugeot): 1st, Formula 1 (Brawn GP): Test driver
2010 Le Mans 24 Hours (Peugeot): DNF, Sebring 12 Hours (Peugeot): 1st
2011 Le Mans 24 Hours (Peugeot): 4th, Petit Le Mans (Peugeot): 1st
Spa 1,000km (Peugeot): 1st

Nicolas Lapierre Profile

Born 2 April 1984, Thonon-Les-Bains (France)
Height 1.70m
Weight 69 kg
Best achievement Youngest Macao F3 winner (2003)

Career History
1993 Began his career in karts
1997 European Kart Championship, CIK Cadet Class: 6th
2000-01 French Formula Renault
2002 Formula Renault Eurocup (Graff Racing): 3rd
2003 Formula 3 EuroSeries (Signature Plus): 4th
Macau Grand Prix: 1st
2004 Formula 3 EuroSeries (Signature Plus): 3rd
2005 GP2 Series (Arden International): 12th
2006 GP2 Series (Arden International): 9th
A1 Grand Prix (Team France): 1st
2007 GP2 Series (DAMS): 12th (2 wins)
Le Mans 24 Hours(Team ORECA): 9th
2008 Le Mans Series (Team ORECA): 12th
2009 Le Mans Series (Team ORECA): 6th
Le Mans 24 Hours (Team ORECA): 5th
Asian Le Mans Series (Team ORECA): 3rd
2010 Le Mans Series (Team ORECA): 2nd
Le Mans 24 Hours (Team ORECA): DNF
2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (Team ORECA)
Le Mans 24 Hours (Team ORECA): 5th
Sebring 12 Hours (Team ORECA): 1st

Kazuki Nakajima Profile

Born 11 January 1985, Okazaki, Japan
Height 1.75m
Weight 62kg
Best achievement First Japanese F1 driver to score points at Monaco (2008)

Career History
1996 Began his career in karts
1999 Suzuka Kart Championship, ICA class: 1st
2003 Esso Formula Toyota: 1st
2004 Japanese Formula 3 Championship (TOM'S): 5th
Macau Grand Prix (TOM'S): 13th
2005 Japanese Formula 3 Championship (TOM'S): 2nd
Macau Grand Prix (TOM'S): 5th
Super GT (apr): 8th
2006 Formula 3 EuroSeries (Manor): 7th
Macau Grand Prix (Manor): DNF
2007 GP2 Series (DAMS): 6th
Formula 1 (Williams): 22nd (one race)
2008 Formula 1 (Williams): 15th
2009 Formula 1 (Williams): 20th
2011 Formula Nippon (TOM'S): 2nd
Super GT (TOM'S): 8th

Toyota Information

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