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Toyota accelerating F1 plans?

THE Toyota Motor Corporation has confirmed that it is shutting down its World Rally Championship team in Cologne at the end of the current season. Team boss Ove Andersson announced the news to the Toyota Team Europe staff a week ago. The news leaves drivers Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol out of work next year, although both should find employment as Seat and Ford are both expanding their involvement in the series. The existing Toyota Corolla WRC models are expected to be handed over to Scuderia Grifone to be run as private entries. We hear that the decision was taken after Toyota management concluded that they had to axe either the rally program or the CART involvement and it was decided that the American market was more important.

The TTE Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar program is expected to survive for another season but will probably then be closed down as well as all efforts are concentrated on the planned Formula 1 project. The company says that it is still deciding whether or not to start its own team in Cologne or to link up with an existing operation. This seems to be a rather different position to a few months ago when Toyota sources were saying that it would be an all-Toyota operation. This change of heart is believed to have come about because of the disastrous debut season of British American Racing and the fact that TTE management has been told by a number of F1 teams that the organisation will struggle to get the right people to move from Britain to Cologne. If Toyota does decide to buy a team the obvious choice in Britain would be Benetton, which does not currently have a link with a major car manufacturer.

Originally, TTE was planning to enter F1 in either 2002 or 2003 but there have been rumours in recent weeks suggesting that this might be brought forward to support Toyota's drive into the European markets in 2001. In order for this to happen Toyota would need to move quickly to buy a team and to find an engine. It could rebadge the old Yamaha V10 and run this while developing its own in-house engine for 2002. An early entry makes sense if Toyota does decide to buy into a team as there is no need for the same period of preparation.

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