TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota’s Racing Division

From the very first Round Australia Rally in 1957 to the very latest 2022 GR Corolla, here’s a brief look into Toyota’s rich and inspiring racing history

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The humble Japanese automaker Toyota, commonly associated with beige-looking Camrys and Prius jokes is not as humble as one might think. Toyota holds quite a few bringing rights, including the title of the world’s largest automaker. Despite the company’s current success, its journey in motorsports and its history with performance cars has been quite the uphill battle. So, let’s take a look at Toyota’s inspiring journey that has given rise to some of the most memorable cars.

Racing history starts with TOSCO

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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Toyota and other Japanese automakers were in a pickleback in the 50s. Post-War Japan was busy rebuilding its fallen economy and that meant the domestic automakers had to focus on supplying affordable and frugal three and four-wheelers to keep the economy moving. As a result, no Japanese automakers were taking part in motorsports at the time, but Kiichiro Toyoda had other plans for his company. So in 1957, after the Japanese embassy’s dialogue with their Australian counterparts, Toyota became the first Japanese automaker to compete in the Round Australia Rally, and with that, it made history by becoming the first major Japanese automaker to take part in motorsports.

Toyota’s new racing division was called Toyota Sports Corner, or Tosco and its first project was preparing a car for the grueling 19-day endurance race around the Australian continent. The car they choose for this epic journey was the brand’s flagship Crown sedan. The prototype of the Toyopet Crown Deluxe completed the epic journey without any major mechanical problems and finished 47th out of 86 thus cementing the brand’s reputation for reliability.

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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Tosco’s second major outing took place in its homeland with the inaugural Japanese Grand Prix in 1963 where it competed with other teams. But, this time around, Toyota had already gained first-hand racing experience, something that the rest of its Japanese counterparts lacked. As a result, Tosco secured three first-place finishes at the 63 Grand Prix. In 1965, they teamed up with Yamaha to produce Toyota’s first proper production sports car, the 2000GT. The partnership resulted in a car that not only took third place at Fuji Speedway’s inaugural race but would also go on to garner accolades and commendations for its revolutionary design and performance for years to come.

Soon Tosco was grabbing eyeballs the world over and had established its reputation as a thoroughbred team. Toyota and Yamaha teamed up once again, this time to create a full-on open-top race car called the 7-Turbo which went on to become the first turbocharged race car thanks to its cutting edge twin-turbo V8 that made 800 horsepower. The Toyota GT2000 too went on to set two world speed records and even managed to feature in a James Bond movie.

Chapter 2- Toyota Racing Development (TRD)

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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After emissions regulations forced Tosco and the 7-Turbo out of racing, Toyota focused its efforts on the world of touring cars. As a result, in 1976, Toyota entered the Touring Car Championship under its newly rebranded Toyota Racing Development (TRD), an autonomous sub-division, solely responsible for the company’s racing efforts.

Despite this newfound autonomy, TRD worked closely with the road-car division to improve and fine-tune many performance products. As for racing TRD USA at the International Motorsport Association (IMSA) GT Series with its own Celica Turbo spaceframe racer. The car first entered the competition in 1982 and by 87, Toyota won the championship, marking the first victory ever for a Japanese automaker in the GTO class.

By the early 90s, Toyota was ready to take on the Group C1 endurance class thanks to TOM’s, a factory-supported team. The Toyota 90C-V racecar took the trophy on its debut at the 500 km endurance race held at Fuji speedway. The early Nineties marked the launch of the factory-supported Toyota Team TOM’S entry into Group C1 endurance racing. Designed, developed, and produced by TRD, the Toyota 90C-V. In addition, they took a fourth-place finish in the WSC season opener at the 480km of Suzuka and even managed to finish 6th at the prestigious 24-hours of Le Mans.

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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By 1992, Toyota Team TOM’S had gained some experience which resulted in a second-place finish in their latest V10 powered TS010 race car followed by another second-place finish in 94 with the 94CLM car designed specifically to take on Le Mans. TRD would take many titles in a whole host of racing classes and series with purpose-built race cars based on road cars like the Supra-based TRD 3000GT, MR2-based TRD 2000GT, and more. Some of these race cars even made it to dealerships as special editions thanks to homologation rules and even got their bespoke TRD VIN plats, case in point, the 35 examples of the MR2 TRD 2000 GT. TRD continues to make special edition vehicles to date but mainly focuses on making more off-road focused versions of its popular SUVs and Trucks such as the 4Runner TRD and the Tundra TRD Pro.

Chapter 3 - Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR)

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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The coveted title of the world’s largest automaker comes with a lot of responsibility. At any given time there are a lot of different projects brewing at Toyota which include everything from Hydrogen fuel cells to cutting-edge research into solid-state batteries and of course racing and performance car development. The latter is also not as streamlined as one might hope. Apart from the aforementioned TRD, Toyota has Gazoo Racing and even Lexus’s F division, all of which operate independently of each other.

Gazoo Racing however is at the forefront of Toyota’s performance car development and racing endeavors. As of date, the latest and greatest performance-oriented vehicles from Toyota all wear GR badges to capitalize on Toyota Gazoo’s success in rally and other motorsports.

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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Gazoo also happens to be the pet project of the current global president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda. Not only is Akio the grandson of the company’s founder, but he was also responsible for the company’s earliest internet presence which was called back in the early 2000s. But back in the day when he wanted to take to motorsports and compete in endurance racing like the 24 hours of Nürburgring, he did not have the blessing or support of the top brass, and back then he was not even a part of the board of directors. But he did have one man’s blessing and unwavering support, and that was none other than Toyota’s Master Driver, Hiromu Naruse.

Naruse became the chief test driver after he proved his metal developing cars like the 2000 GT, MR2, Altezza, and the Mk-4 Supra. The man was given the title of Nur Master by Ferrari test drivers which means Master of the Nürburgring and for good reason. Naruse has taken more laps of the Nürburgring than any other test driver in history. The ragtag team consisted of Gazoo’s then head Akio Toyoda who took the wheel himself under the guidance of the Nur Master. Accompanied by a handful of his best employees, they took a couple of used Altezzas wearing livery to the 24 hours of Nürburgring in 2007 which marked the beginning of Toyota GR. After the tragic demise of Naruse during the testing of an LF-A prototype in June of 2010, the entire GR racing program was on the verge of shutting down but Naruse’s student and now president of Toyota Motor Company Akio Toyoda stepped up and became the official Chef Test Driver and as a result, the new lot of GR cars are a clear reflection of Akio Toyoda’s love for cars and motorsports.

TOSCO to Gazoo - A Brief History of Toyota's Racing Division
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Gazoo Racing (GR) division officially started developing cars for Toyota in 2009 and since then GR has been responsible for some of the most recognizable and frantic modern Toyotas that take inspiration from the world of motorsports. Their motorsport efforts have them competing in a wide range of events from WRC to Touring Car Championship and the learnings have rubbed off on quite a few cars wearing the GR badge in recent years. The Supra and the new GR86 are some good examples but their latest pet project was unveiled recently in the form of the 2022 GR Corolla. This car takes the record-breaking turbo three-cylinder engine and drivetrain from the limited-run GR Yaris hatchback and combines it with the practicality of the humble Corolla. The GR Corolla is a true homage to the glorious hot hatches of yesteryears. Click here to read out review of the 2022 Toyota GR Corolla.

Bhavik Sreenath
Bhavik Sreenath
A keen automotive enthusiast with a love for anything with engines. He loves discovering the world of cars and technology to explore new boundaries in the field of modern-day journalism.  Read full bio
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