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Le Mans 2023

Last-minute BoP changes for Le Mans “a problem”, says Toyota team boss

But Rob Leupen insists that Toyota can use the setback to prove it is “a true racing team”

Published: 09 Jun 2023

The director of Toyota’s endurance team has questioned the timing of changes to the Balance of Performance (BoP) system used at Le Mans, which slapped its GR010 with a 37kg weight penalty just nine days before the start of the centenary edition of the race.

The team reckons it has cost the car 1.2 seconds per lap, and while rivals Ferrari were also ordered to carry an extra 24kg it was the 499P that dominated qualifying, locking out the front row in Thursday’s Hyperpole shootout as Toyota managed third and fifth.

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The changes announced on 1 June came as a big shock, with the FIA and the ACO (Le Mans’ organisers) claiming the alterations would counteract the “greater than initially anticipated” differences between the LMH and LMDh cars in the top Hypercar class.

And while Toyota accepts the move is “within the regulations”, it is quietly seething about how the situation has been handled so close to the most prestigious race of the season.

“As a sportsman, I have a problem because we are here for the sport,” said team director Rob Leupen. “We know that the others are not so far away. You [the fans] get more [of a] show potentially, but is it a show or is it a sport? And this question everybody has to answer for themselves.

“The sport should make the show.” When it was put to him that the penalty sounded like success ballast (Toyota has dominated the first two races of the World Endurance Championship this year), Leupen replied: “I would not contest that.”

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So, not best pleased then? Any team that openly criticises BoP decisions can put itself at risk of a sporting penalty, but team advisor and two-time Le Mans winner Alex Wurz has made it clear that the team is very frustrated.

Alex Wurz Toyota Le Mans

“Will everyone be happy at times? No. Are we happy at the moment? No. Because it was a reasonably last-minute, very short [notice] announcement and surprise to us.

“Hopefully we can learn and we can find a way it is not politically driven, it will always be science and sport driven. What is the ultimate governance of sport? A fair playing field for the athletes and the teams to perform on equal levels.

“We feel it wasn’t done by the scientific logic which was originally anticipated by the rules.” Shots. Fired.

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Luckily the big boss - Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, who is in town for the race - managed to defuse the tension earlier in the day at the ACO’s pre-event press conference.

Stepping up to announce a new hydrogen-powered racing prototype, Toyoda said: “Of course, one of the other major benefits of hydrogen is just how light it is… less BoP!” Cue big laughs in the room, including from ACO president Pierre Fillon. “Which, as we all know, is one of the biggest advantages you can have in a race...”

Apparently Akio has already given the team a pep talk in the aftermath of that 37kg setback.

“We will go for it,” insisted Leupen. “It will not stop us [giving] the best possible performance. We are still in a competitive position.

“We are in a situation where we’ll definitely take the opportunity to show that we are a true racing team, and that we’ll fight for the overall victory.”

Toyota has won the last five 24 Hours of Le Mans. Don’t count them out of winning a sixth just yet, even with an extra 37 kilos on board.

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