The History of TOYOTA at Le Mans
Looking back over a long history of unending challenges
The TS020 with Three Japanese Drivers Finishes 2nd a Step from Victory
In 1995, the year that the cars competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans had shifted from Group C cars to GT cars, one Toyota Supra GT LM car developed in line with the LM GT1 regulation was entered in the race. While mounting a modified 2.1-liter 3S-GT engine [used previously in Japan], there had been considerable difficulties in finding chassis settings to accommodate the awesome power of the LM-GT1 regulation. Nonetheless, the Supra had been able to run in 7th position for a while in the race and eventually finish the 24 hours in 14th place.The Supra was entered again in 1996, but its race ended with a crash just before 8:00 in the morning.
After a year's respite in 1997, Toyota returned to Le Mans in 1998. A big change was made in the organization of the Toyota campaign for the 24 Hours of Le Mans that had been based in Japan. The working group Toyota Team Europe (TTE), which had long handled Toyota's WRC activities and would later become TMG, developed the Toyota GT-One (TS020) and also took over the race operations as well. In a carbon monocoque chassis, the TS020 mounted a 3.6-liter V8 twin-turbo engine originating from the Toyota Group C cars, and with this combination it was able to finish as high as 2nd in the qualifying before going on to lead the race for a long time, including a period when two of the TS020s ran 1-2 in the lead. However, both cars had to drop out due to transmission trouble and an accident. Only the third TS020 driven by a Japanese trio of Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya managed to survive to finish in 9th place.
The following year (1999) brought a change in the technical regulations that changed the LM GT1 to the prototype car LM GTP. In line with this new regulation, three further-advanced versions of the GT-One were built to participate in the 1999 race. Two of these suffered accidents, but as with the previous year, the car driven by the Japanese trio went on to run in a very respectable 2nd place in the second half of the race, in which it also recorded the race's fastest lap. At that point it looked as if the car would go on to score a come-from-behind victory, but with just one hour left in the race, the car suffered a burst tire. This left it to finish the race in 2nd, once again falling just short of victory.