Toyota’s GAZOO Racing DNA Is Built On Over Half A Century Of Motorsport Excellence

Toyota’s GAZOO Racing DNA Is Built On Over Half A Century Of Motorsport Excellence

Toyota's racing heritage dates back long before this year's ARC kicked off in Canberra.
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To every automotive brand, Formula 1 is the perfect alignment. Whether they’re on the grid in some way or not, the biggest manufacturers in the world all manage to find a way to piggyback off the rise (and rise) of motorsport’s jewel in the crown.

But Toyota is no stranger to the lights going out, and its GAZOO Racing Garage might have just been the most qualified badge outside of the pit lane at the Australian Grand Prix. Its 2023 Australian Rally Championship 1-2 win aside, Toyota’s motorsport heritage is one of the most storied automotive journeys of all time.

GAZOO Racing is the brand’s present day umbrella for every occasion that Toyota and motorsport cross paths. Toyota’s Chairman and former President & CEO (who happens to also be its Master Driver), Akio Toyoda, has been directly involved in the development of every GR badged vehicle that leaves Japan. The goal is simple – expand the love of motorsport and translate the technological progress of the cars on track to those in your garage at home.

Ove Andersson (right) and co-driver Martin Holmes after 1976 RAC Rally with their winning trophies.

Despite a multi-decade long legacy across endurance racing, NASCAR, and even a stint in Formula 1, it’s the marque’s proficiency in rallying that makes up the bulk of Toyota’s motorsport DNA. 

And these strands can’t be separated. Toyota and rally car championships go together like a Bunnings snag on white bread, synonymous in the history books from the 1970’s onwards where it dominated events like the challenging Safari Rally with the iconic Celica and Corolla badge names. The turbo-charged Group B era of the eighties was where the anti was really upped across the board, and Toyota’s Celica Twincam Turbo cemented itself as a formidable contender competing against legendary rivals like the Audi Quattro and Lancia Delta S4. 

TTE’s Carlos Sainz in his WRC Corolla in the 1999 Rally New Zealand.

Legendary drivers like Juha Kankkunen and Björn Waldegård stood on the top step for the brand, and propelled it into World Rally Championships where the likes of Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol piloted the Corolla and Celica GT-Four to many of Toyota’s incredible 45 WRC race wins.

Fast forward two decades, and Toyota’s racing legacy still has it leading from the front with respect to various technologies we’ve come to expect under the bonnet of your family wheels in the 2020’s. World-class four-wheel-drive systems and advances in turbocharged engines, for example, have helped solidify Toyota’s global reputation for performance and reliability. 

Olivier Panis in his Toyota TF103 at F1 testing in, Barcelona, Spain, 2003.

Traditionally, every Toyota race car – from Suzuka’s Formula 1 starting grid to the rally dustbowls of Gippsland – have been the flesh and blood of tomorrow’s cars. But with the GR Yaris AP4, the roles have been reversed. Toyota, in collaboration with Neal Bates Motorsport, has started with the highly successful road car we know and love, and converted it to a rally car.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s GR Yaris Rally2 on display at the 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Harry and Lewis Bates – brothers, drivers, and fierce competitors in the Australian Rally Championship – debuted the latest iteration of this new machine, the Rally2, at this year’s Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.

“This year we’re racing six rounds of the ARC. Last year, Canberra – our home race – was the last round. Rivalry’s been in our blood since day one. But last year was pretty tense. It literally came down to the final stages of the final race weekend in front of all our family and friends,” recalled Lewis.

“And that’s why it’s always the most exciting for us. Interestingly, this year Canberra is the first round, so the dust will only just have settled before I get back in and do it all again.”

Lewis Bates (left) congratulates his brother, Harry, on his ARC win in Canberra late 2023.

His brother Harry, the defending champion and the one who pipped him at the post in the final race of 2023, knows what needs to be done to retain his title in this new beast.

“I know how important it is to adapt to this new car early and make sure that I’m comfortable in it,” Harry Bates explained.

“I did the same thing a couple of years ago for both the ARC and Rally New Zealand. I had to turn up in a new car with very minimal testing, which is not an easy thing to do. From that point of view, I should probably be slightly worried about how we’re going to go in Canberra, but at the same time, I’ve got more experience now.”

“I honestly think there are five or six crews who are going to be winning stages this year, which is something that we’ve haven’t had in the ARC for a little while now.”

The Rally2 cutting its teeth overseas in Nordic rallies ahead of its ARC debut this year.

If there’s one thing Toyota’s racing history has proven to deliver time and time again, it’s ensuring the layman’s daily driving experience and the excitement on its racetrack of choice are inextricably linked.

Felt through the steering wheels of Toyotas the world over, the brand’s half a century of passion and innovation in almost every discipline of motorsport lives on in this weekend’s ARC opening round.

“There’s no game plan for 2024 other than to have to turn up to Canberra and drive absolutely flat out,” teases Harry Bates.

The 2024 Australian Rally Championship has just kicked off in Canberra, and Toyota leads from the front this year with two cars to defend last year’s 1-2 finish.

This article is presented in partnership with Toyota. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

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