Toyota has announced Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima as the drivers for its World Endurance Championship program with its new hybrid LMP1 car. The new Toyota will contest selected WEC rounds, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, as the Japanese firm returns to top-line sports car racing for the first time since its Le Mans bids of the late 1990s.
It was revealed on Sunday that two-time Le Mans winner and ex-Formula 1 racer Wurz (ABOVE) would move from Peugeot's LMP1 program to lead the Toyota project.
"As soon as I heard about the possibility to join the team I was instantly excited and keen to be involved," said Wurz. "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."
Lapierre has established a sports car career with ORECA – which will work with Toyota on the program – in recent seasons, with the 27-year-old Frenchman part of the winning crew at this year's Sebring 12 Hours. He said he was honored to be chosen by Toyota and excited by its decision to run a hybrid.
"To be selected by a company like Toyota for such a new and interesting project is a proud moment for me," said Lapierre. "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 am interested to experience the hybrid system for the first time; this adds a different aspect to our challenge and we have to consider some different strategic factors. It's great to be involved at the beginning with this technology and I hope it will give us a performance advantage."
The LMP1 deal marks a return to top-level international motorsport for former Williams F1 driver and long-time Toyota protege Nakajima, who returned to Japanese domestic racing this season after losing his grand prix seat at the end of 2009.
"To return to Le Mans, and to take part in this new championship, means a lot to Toyota so I am very honored to be a part of it," said the 26-year-old Japanese driver. "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."
The three drivers are already working in Toyota's simulator ahead of the new car's track debut early in 2012.