I must admit that when I was smaller, the thing that drew me to Toyota Team Europe (TTE) was not any loyalty to the Manufacturer, it wasn’t even that I loved the drivers...it was purely due to the fact that I really loved the Castrol liveries and the looks of the Celicas and Corollas!
However, strangely enough my first car was a beautiful Toyota and although I had grown away from the WRC and more into F1 (just like TTE!), my love for the WRC had been re-ignited.
I went straight to the internet and Rally DVDs and found that in actual fact it wasn’t just the liveries that I loved! Sainz is one of my all time favourite drivers. I love the history of the team and were it not for Britain’s unfair insurance system I would be very much buying a Celica for my 21st (However being a young man, I’d have to pay well over the price of the bloody car to be allowed to drive it!).
Anyway I digress! I am now well and truly back into the WRC, I love it! However, although the car I passed my test in competes (Ford Focus), I have always loved Japanese cars and unfortunately, when you take away the odd private entry, 2009 has had no official Japanese entrant (due to the exit of Subaru last year).
The problem is, many people now find the WRC totally boring and I know that the current climate probably means that Subaru, Suzuki and Mitsubishi can’t really afford to re-join the WRC that soon.
The light at the end of the tunnel comes with the 2011 rule changes which will hopefully pave the way for a much bigger entrance list. I would like to argue that with all the money Toyota is wasting in F1, a return to the WRC makes perfect sense for the World’s biggest car manufacture.
Toyota and the WRC
Toyota’s Rally outfit began life in 1971 when a Toyota Celica was entered in the RAC Rally. Toyota came 9th, and importantly saw off stiff competition from its Japanese rivals.
Due to the logistical problems of shipping cars from Japan to Europe, Ove Andersson (the driver that had raced the Celica to P9 in 1971), moved the outfit to Sweden under the name of Anderson Motorsport. Here, Toyota's first European team was born.
In 1975 the team became Toyota Team Europe and in August of that year, they won their first rally. TTE conquered the 1000 Lakes Rally with a Corolla 1600.
From then onwards the team grew in size and success. Although Toyota had won many rallies by 1990, their hard work really paid off when, at the end of the 1990 WRC season, Carlos Sainz won the team’s first ever Driver’s Title. TTE were also proud runners up in the Manufacturers Championship.
TTE then went on to have a glorious 1990s in which with various drivers and cars the team gained a further three Driver’s Titles and Manufacturer’s Titles. Perhaps they could have won even more...if they hadn’t been banned from the WRC for 12 months for pushing the regulations to their limits (or as some people call it...cheating), with an illegal air restrictor.
After their 1999 Manufacturer’s victory, TTE sadly stopped participating in rallying, in order to prepare for a switch to Formula 1 in 2002.
Toyota and Formula 1
Toyota F1 began their life in 2002, piloted by Le Mans star Alan McNish and Mika Salo. However, for all of Toyota’s money, the team only managed to score two points! And these points only really came about through other drivers exiting the race!
But let us not be too quick to judge, it was only Toyota’s first year in F1 and at this level, teams need a couple of seasons if they want to be world beaters.
With new drivers for 2003, despite showing promise the team only managed 16 points. Unfortunately, 2004 was much like 1995 for Toyota who were disqualified from the Canadian GP for running illegal parts.
The team faced further pressure over a spy gate scandal involving Ferrari. Toyota may well have only finished 8th in the Constructor’s standings, but the arrival of designer Mike Gascoyne and driver Jarno Trulli meant that Toyota F1’s future looked a little brighter.
2005 was certainly a turning point for Toyota with a stronger driver line up and an extension of involvement (supplying Jordan with Toyota engines). A couple of podium finishes and points in all but two races meant that the 2005 season was Toyota's most successful Formula One season by far.
Although in 2006 the team experienced the second-best season performance in their F1 history, scoring 35 points and finishing in sixth place, the exit of Mike Gascoyne after a management disagreement was a step in the wrong direction for a team hoping to climb the rankings.
Sure enough 2007 marked Toyota’s worst season since 2004. With a dismal points tally of 13 the team was left simply promising better things to come.
Although the arrival of Timo Glock was a promising development for Toyota, 2008 marked an ultimatum for the Japanese outfit as the team was told it had just two years to turn Toyota into a successful F1 team!
After a topsy- turvy season Toyota finished 2008 with 56 points and ranked 5th, which was very much a step in the right direction.
For 2009, Toyota were amongst three top teams, each with a controversial ‘double diffuser’ at the rear of their cars. It was widely expected that the Title would be between Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota (at least until the other teams caught up with their designs).
However, whilst Brawn GP went on to conquer the early season, Williams and Toyota simply slipped away into the mid field.
Williams had an excuse; the team was struggling for funds, but in actuality was performing pretty well with Niko Rosberg raking in several top 5 performances. Meanwhile, Toyota with all their finances, simply floundered like a dying coy carp!
Despite qualifying first in Bahrain, Toyota have shown real promise (with no reward) in some races but at tracks like Monaco and Valencia have looked downright awful!
Toyota currently lie in 5th place in the Constructor’s standings which, when you consider their promise, is very poor. The departure of Honda and more recently BMW has led to very strong speculation that Toyota will become another giant exit from F1 for 2010.
Toyota experienced far greater success in rallying than it has in F1. However, this isn’t the only reason the Japanese car manufacturer should return to the WRC. F1 is simply a money draining sport and without relative success, this money is being severely wasted and your car manufacturer inevitably looks bad.
Whilst it was a huge achievement for Force India to finish second in Spain, a big team like Toyota should be aiming for podiums in most races. For the 2008 F1 season Toyota’s expected expenditure was an astonishing $445.6 million!
Whilst I was annoyingly unable to get a similar budget for Citroen Total World Rally Team, I can tell you that a WRC car costs around $1million. This may not include the extra cost of spares, sets of competition tyres and several engine and gearbox rebuilds during the season, but I can comfortably estimate that all of that will be far less than $445 million.
A significant rule within the WRC is that competing cars must have the same basic ‘shell’ as the road cars they represent. Though there are some small aerodynamic differences I think a move to a sport in which the cars look essentially the same as the cars you are selling makes perfect sense.
This is especially important when you consider Toyota’s green credentials and Citroen’s positive tests with the hybrid car last year. Remember how crap Honda’s environmental message was in F1 2007 and 2008? Well that was largely due to the irony that F1 could never truly be that green.
Honda also suffered from a very poor car design which meant that many people wrongly thought that the RA107 and 08 were poor because they were green.
The WRC has a much greater potential to fulfill its green promises and still make green energy look efficient. This can only make Toyota look good if they choose to follow that path. There are even a huge number of talented drivers out there just waiting for a big drive (I’m thinking Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg to name just two). Of course what with the current trend of class swapping...Timo or Jarno could always pilot the team!
Yes the WRC doesn’t attract as many viewers as F1 and yes many WRC fans are losing interest in sport at a worryingly fast rate, but in 2011 the super 2000 cars will hopefully bring in more teams, more drivers and revitalization for the WRC.
If more big companies leave F1 many people believe this will be bad news for the sport, but if that exodus moves to the WRC...good times!
F1 is doing no favours for Toyota, but if they can join the WRC at the start of something special, who is to say they can’t return to the glory days of the 1990s?
So come on Toyota: Come home to the WRC!
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