Toyota team boss Pascal Vasselon says the pace the TS030 showed as it took the fight to Audi in the first quarter of the Le Mans 24 Hours was absolutely genuine and not a bid for short-term glory in a car that was not likely to make the finish.
With limited time between the approval of the TS030 program and its race debut at Le Mans – plus the disruption of a massive testing crash – the new Toyota was not expected to last the full 24 hours, with some of its drivers admitting that qualifying might be their best chance to star.
By Saturday evening, the Toyotas were running second and third, with Nicolas Lapierre in the #7 car able to pass Benoit Treluyer's #1 Audi – which would go on to win the race – for the race lead. Vasselon said that was a realistic reflection of the car's pace.
"We were not looking for an aggressive start and leading for 10 minutes," he said. "I know some people were expecting us to try to do that at the start, but no.
"The drivers knew they had to be safe at the start, then at the beginning the balance was not perfect. It was changing, the track was changing. We started on a very green track [because of the rain overnight] and it's important to be balanced for when the grip builds up, that was our target. So the balance changed quite quickly, the grip increased to the expected level and the pace improved. We saw that Audi's pace was consistent, ours was improving."
The #7 was subsequently delayed when Kazuki Nakajima collided with the Nissan DeltaWing, and later retired with engine failure, while the sister #8 car was involved in a huge accident with Anthony Davidson at the wheel.
Asked if Toyota could have sustained its attack for the whole race, Vasselon replied: "I would say yes because it was not something extraordinary, not a special attack, it was our pace. You saw we had two cars running a very similar pace, it was not something really requiring a huge effort.
"When Nico was fighting with Treluyer we were not concerned, it was looking well under control from his side. OK, Benoit was a bit tough, but it was nothing special in terms of car settings."
Vasselon believes the TS030's race debut showed that there are some key areas where it will be able to keep Audi on its toes when their battle resumes over the rest of the World Endurance Championship season.
"I would say we have three strengths in our car," he said. "The hybrid system has worked consistently well all through qualifying and the race, aero is good, and the biggest benefit in the race is our tire management.
"The car is very kind on tires. We went to four stints [on each set of tires] and that is where we made up the ground."