In 1935, Kiichiro Toyota finished the prototype of the first Japanese car – The A1. At that point Kiichiro named his company Hinode Motors but in 1937 the Toyota Motor Co. was officially founded, producing the G1 truck for export. Toyota is a relative newcomer to Formula 1 but has an established heritage on the motor sport circuit.
The Japanese firm first turned their eyes to competitive racing when they entered the fourth Australian Rally with a Toyopet Crown De-Luxe in 1957. It was an ominous and unorthodox start for the Japanese manufacturer: as a kangaroo bounced off the hood of the car the driver of the Toyota, Kojiro Kondo, span off, apparently saying to his navigator: “Jumping devil come from tree.” Pulling himself back into the race, Kondo went on to finish 47th out of 102 drivers.
Since that initial foray, Toyota has been prominent on the World Rally Circuit (WRC) and in other competitive races. In 1966, Toyota proved its worth to the world with its 2000GT. The Toyota debuted at the Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway, and even though little more than a highly-tuned production car, finished a highly impressive third.
Following this success, Toyota decided to evaluate the 2000GT more thoroughly and as a long distance racing vehicle, the car certainly impressed, breaking 3 world records in the space of 78 hours. Determined to improve on this success, the engineers came back the next year unveiling the 5 litre 1000GT. The new Toyota was certainly special and at the Fuji 1000km Grand Prix easily beat the field. This first success was repeated in November with the 1000GT again finishing top of the field at the Japan CANAM.
In 1972, Toyota decided to enter their first WRC, with a 2T-G Celicia. The year was deemed a success with the Toyota finishing 9th overall and 1st in its respective class (1300cc-1600cc). It also set the standard for the next year with the new Corolla giving Toyota their first overall victory at the WRC. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Toyota continued to concentrate its resources on the rally sector, and built up an excellent array of titles.
It was 1985 when Toyota decided to move to more high-end racing by entering the 24 hour LeMans. The Toyota TOM’s 85C-L entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and with Saturo Nakajima, J Masanoir Sekiya, J Kouru/Kauro Hoshino at the wheel, the Toyota managed 12th Place out of 55 with 323 laps. As a 2090cc car the Toyota was, however, a small engine relative to many of its competitors.
In the 1980’s Toyota’s rise into F1 started to look increasingly imminent. Perhaps the catalyst came in 1988, with a Toyota Engine (3S-G) winning the driver’s title at the England F3 Championships.
Throughout the 1990’s Toyota motorsports continued to dominate in a variety of different events. From the Land Cruisers’ successes on the sands of the Granada-Dakar Rally in 1996, to a second place at LeMans in 1994, Toyota showed their pedigree as contructors and in 1999 they announced their intention to participate in F1, simultaneously increasing their technical and development team to an impressive 550 professionals.
As well as their newfound love for F1, Toyota also continued to develop cars for CART (formerly IndyCar). The American based event, which hosts no events in Europe, provided Toyota with their first high end successes with a Toyota engine in the Target team scoring its first victory, driven by J.Montoya in 2000. The season proved a good hunting ground for Montoya and he went on to amass 5 victories that season.
In 2001 Toyota finally revealed their F1 prototype at the Paul Ricard test circuit in the south of France. The car, the TF101, was designed by André de Cortanze and was driven by Mika Salo and Allan McNish. Subjected to significant testing in 2001, the car formed the basis for the team’s debut vehicle the TF102 the following season.
Toyota as an F1 Constructor
With their operations based in Koln, Germany, 2002 saw Toyota officially debut their first F1 car at the Australian Grand Prix. Mika Salo managed a 6th place finish and scored the team 2 points. It seemed like an excellent start to the season but unfortunately Toyota failed to score any more points for the entirety of the season and the team finished 10th in the constructor’s championship after technical failings dominated the season.
In 2003, Toyota welcomed two new drivers to replace Salo and McNish: the Frenchman, Olivier Panis and the Brazilian, Cristiano da Matta. The season showed a definite improvement in both the car’s efficiency and the team’s placing, with 16 points and an eight place finish. However, Toyota, despite a huge budget, still failed to compete with the top teams and finished in the bottom quartile over all.
The following season again saw two new drivers, inaugurated half way through the year and an agreement by Ralf Schumacher to join the team in 2005. This time the drivers were Ricardo Zonta and Jarno Trulli, but the new pairing did not find the new TF104B, which had been claimed to be a real evolution by Toyota engineer Gustav Branner, to be a vast improvement and once again Toyota could only manage an 8th place finish in the championship.
2005, was an indubitable improvement for the Toyota team. With Trulli and Schumacher at the helm, the team was able to achieve a much better season and only failed to score points in one race. Schumacher also openly stated, when the new Toyota was unveiled at Barcelona, that he saw his chances as being far more greatly improved at Toyota than at his previous team, Williams.
It was Bahrain where the real highlight came though, with Trulli finishing second and Schumacher fourth. 2005 will also be remembered as the year that saw a war erupt between the two principle tyre manufactures