DECEMBER 2, 1996

Toyota planning F1 assault

THE Toyota Motor Corporation is planning to enter Grand Prix racing in the near future.

THE Toyota Motor Corporation is planning to enter Grand Prix racing in the near future. According to a report from the DowÊJones news network the world's third largest car-maker (behind General Motors and Ford) is expecting to make a formal announcement soon. Quoting an anonymous senior Toyota executive, the report says that Toyota intends to be an engine supplier.

This makes a lot of sense from a business point of view as the company is currently expanding internationally - notably into Asia - and will also be pushing harder in Europe when current European restrictions are relaxed at the end of 1999. It also makes sense in F1 terms because the withdrawal of Renault means there is the opportunity for the company to secure a top team.

There have been a number of attempts in recent years to get Toyota into F1, the most serious being in 1992 when the TOM'S company commissioned John Barnard to design an F1 car in the hope that Toyota would back the program once the car was up-and-running. At the time Toyota had a 3.5-liter V10 engine which had been built for sportscar racing. In late 1991 Geoff Lees lapped Monza in a Toyota sportscar faster than Ayrton Senna had managed in a McLaren-Honda at the Italian GP. The Toyota sportscar team won the first sportscar race of the 1992 season but finished runner-up in the championship to Peugeot. In the mid season Toyota decided not to support the TOM'S scheme and Barnard joined Ferrari.

Toyota's decision to concentrate on sportscar racing was poorly timed because at the end of that year the Sportscar World Championship was canceled. The Toyota competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1993, Eddie Irvine taking pole position - but Peugeot won again. The company concentrated on rallying in 1994 and 1995 but this year became involved in Indycar racing with Dan Gurney's All American Racers and Arciero Wells.

There is likely to be much speculation in the coming months over which team (or teams) Toyota will supply. Williams is the obvious candidate, particularly as the team has just announced a deal with Castrol - which has strong links with Toyota in rallying and Indycars.

At the same time Toyota has strong commercial links with Yamaha - there have long been rumors that the Yamaha program was just a toe-in-the-water exercise for Toyota - and Tom Walkinshaw is well-placed if the plan is to rebadge the Yamaha V10 engines.

TOM'S cannot be excluded. Run by ambitious 49-year-old former racer Nobuhide Tachi, the company has been tuning and developing Toyota machinery since it was formed in 1974. In 1987 Toyota Team TOM'S was established to be Toyota's factory motorsport operation. It is interesting to note that in recent months Frank Coppuck - who worked with Barnard on the 1992 project - has recently rejoined TOM'S after spells with Pacific and Benetton. TOM'S also has long links with Dome, which date back to 1980.