Toyota hybrid racer hits the track

Toyota introduced several new hybrids at the 2012 North American International Auto Show, but it saved the most exciting one for Twitter. The first, grainy images of the automaker’s upcoming Le Mans race car released via the social media outlet yesterday.

Details on the prototype endurance racer have yet to be revealed, but the photos confirm that it will use some sort of hybrid technology, as Toyota promised when it announced the program last year, with the word “hybrid” prominently displayed on the car’s enormous shark fin aerodynamic element.

Current Le Mans regulations allow cars competing in the top LMP1 class to use a variety of kinetic energy recovery systems that use the brakes, engine, exhaust or even the suspension system to generate electricity. This energy is stored in either a flywheel or battery pack and directed to electric motors both to increase fuel efficiency and deliver a boost in power.

The car is being co-developed with racing outfit Oreca and is set to be on the grid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans event in June, but could make its racing debut at one of the FIA World Endurance Championship races leading up to the French classic. The prototype’s appearance will mark the first time Toyota has competed at Le Mans since 1999, but it won’t be the only Toyota hybrid competing in 2012.

At the 2012 Tokyo Motor Salon, Toyota unveiled the Prius GT300 race car, which will compete in Japan in the Super GT series this year with what is expected to be a 300 hp hybrid powertrain, a fair bit more powerful than the one in the street car.

Can a high-performance production Prius be far behind? We’ll probably have to wait to see if it can win on Sunday before they try to sell it on Monday, but, in the meantime, the Prius V station wagon is perfect for an environmentally-friendly pre-race tailgate party.

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