MARCH 23, 1998
Keep an eye on Toyota
IT is over a year since reports first emerged from Japan that Toyota was looking seriously at entering Formula 1 as an engine manufacturer, as part of the company's international expansion plans under its go-ahead President Hiroshi Okuda. The company's primary target this year is victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours and it has assembled an impressive squad of drivers including former Grand Prix drivers Thierry Boutsen, Martin Brundle and Ukyo Katayama to race the controversial GT-ONE sportscars, which have been designed at the Team Toyota Europe headquarters at Marsdorf, near Cologne, in Germany.
The cars, which are powered by 3.6-liter twin-turbo V8 engines have been designed by Frenchman Andre de Cortanze, who was previously technical director of Peugeot Talbot Sport, Sauber and ultimately Ligier. He left F1 at the start of last year to work with Toyota and the suspicion is that if the team can win at Le Mans Toyota will look to enter F1 in 2000, which will coincide with the company's plans to launch a major sales drive in Europe when the current restrictions on sales lapse.
While some of the Japanese car companies such as Mitsubishi, Nissan and Mazda are suffering as a result of the Asian financial crisis, Toyota and Honda are both doing exceptionally well - and Honda has just announced plans to enter F1 with its own car and engine.
Toyota may not be far behind...
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