Audi hybrid driver Allan McNish says he is wary of the threat Toyota poses in the Le Mans 24 Hours in spite of the fact that the Japanese manufacturer's TS030 having not yet been raced.
Toyota ran for the first time alongside rivals during the Le Mans test at the beginning of June and ended the day less than 1.5s off the pace of the three Audi R18s in front of it. Alhough question marks remain over the Toyota's reliability over 24 hours, given the rushed nature of its program, McNish – a former Toyota driver himself both at Le Mans and Formula 1 – isn't writing off the Japanese challenge.
"It wasn't quicker than I thought it would be because I thought it would be quick," McNish said when asked what he thought of Toyota's performance in the test. "But it ran reliably for the whole day – on both cars, it appeared.
"The two things I took out of it were, one, it was pretty quick all the time and it had very good top speed. It was consistently about 5-6mph quicker than we were. And Wurz was on a pink middle sector when it got red-flagged at the end of the session. If you just make the average of the personal bests on his last lap, then he probably would have been first or second quickest overall.
"You can say they are right there in the ballpark, because they have high top speeds, they have got 15 liters more fuel capacity so they have got a wider strategy window, and they seem to be quite reliable from what I saw from eight hours of testing. They are not there just for fun and entertainment."
McNish added that Audi welcomed Toyota's two-car entry at Le Mans and said that a competitive TS030 would be better for all concerned in the race.
"It's good news for us!" said McNish. "I've got to be honest, Peugeot pulling out was a huge disappointment, but also [Toyota not racing at] Spa was also a big disappointment because we want the competition – we need it.
McNish, who survived a massive accident in the first hour of the 2011 race, reckons that he and his teammates Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello (in his last Le Mans) are in good shape having set the pace in testing.
"I didn't really think about last year's accident," he said. "I went down through the Esses as I've always done. Definitely I came away from the test feeling very confident that we have made big improvement with the car from last year.
"Aerodynamically it's a huge improvement and they have done a really good job there, and we've got a much more consistent base to go into race week than we had last year. We have got a car that we feel we can attack with and get on with it. I came away with quite a light feeling in terms of our performance, and how our No. 2 car can get to grips with it."