The seven best Toyota racing cars

24th November 2021
Ethan Jupp

We love Toyota for its sporting history but unlike some marques; think Ford with the GT40, McLaren with the F1 GTR and MP4/4 and Ferrari with the F2002 and 250GTO, there aren’t any stand-out icons. What there is, is a rich history of cool, if sometimes unsung race cars from the Aichi marque. Let’s count some down.


Toyota 7

Toyota and Yamaha are unlikely collaborators but have worked together on a couple of occasions. Most recently on the vocals of the Lexus LFA supercar. Well before that, however, the motorcycle company helped Toyota birth its Group 7 sportscar. Yes, this 1960s wedge-shaped monster was Toyota’s first purpose-built racing car.

While initially heavy and underpowered, the 415S got into its stride in the second half of 1968, scoring its first victory at the Suzuka Auto Racing Tournament, taking the top four positions. In July 1968, it then took victory at the second running of the Fuji 1,000km and in August, the Suzuka 12-hour and latterly in September, the Suzuki 1,000km. Sadly, all 14 of the 415S-spec Toyota 7s were destroyed following their retirement from contemporary racing. Development of the 7 continued with the ‘new 7’ 474S, with a bigger, more powerful DFV-inspired 5.0-litre V8 engine. Of the twelve cars made, only the Can-Am winner survives. This series of brutes proved an unlikely kick-off point for Toyota’s illustrious history in bespoke racing car construction and competition. Needless to say, future generations could only hope for the relative out-the-box successes of the 7s.

Toyota Corolla GT AE86

One discipline Toyota has a long and storied history in is touring car racing, in which it’s seen few successes quite like with the AE86 Corolla GT and Chris Hodgetts in 1986 and 1987. Hodgetts would take 18 wins in his class from 20 starts over the course of the two seasons, securing British titles in both years. Hodgetts and the AE86 were crowd favourites thanks to his aggressive driving style and the car’s highly mobile rear end.

That oversteery character has of course made the AE86 a cult classic among many car enthusiasts. It served as the inspiration for the burgeoning sport of drifting, in which many AE86’s have successfully competed. It’s one thing to win in a motorsport formula. The AE86 is unique in inspiring one.

Toyota TS010

The regulations that arguably went some way to killing Group C also produced some of the discipline’s coolest cars. Yes, the V10 Peugeots are incredible but we’re here to show some love for the stunning TS010. The ingredients were potent, being designed by Tony Southgate, of Le Mans-winning XJR-9 fame, and with a bespoke 3.5-litre V10 producing anywhere from 608 to 730PS. 

It was however ill-timed. This Japanese howler secured a single World Sportscar Championship victory over the famous Peugeots at Monza in 1992 before the French cars got into their stride for the season. With the cancellation of the series in 1993, the Toyota’s career as a premier endurance title contender was cut short. It did however secure the Group C title in one of the final series in which it was still relevant, the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, where it won out over Nissan and Mazda’s efforts. A small consolation.


Toyota Celica ST185

The Celica ST185 is arguably Toyota’s most successful rally car. Yes the Yaris WRC has two titles to its name as well but they’re spaced three years apart. The Celica secured back-to-back manufacturer’s titles in 1993 and 1994, on top of a triple-header of driver’s titles beginning in 1992.

It was the first of a wave of modern-style rally cars, with all-wheel-drive and turbo power, from Japanese manufacturers that would dominate the World Rally Championship. It’s comparatively forgotten for many car enthusiasts, with the royal blue Subarus stealing the glory and the spotlight the following year. Of course, Toyota might have done the business in 1995, too, if not for its disqualification following the controversy surrounding the turbo restrictors on its new ST205 Celica. The marque was disqualified from competition in the ongoing 1995 season and banned for 1996.


Toyota Tom’s Supra Super GT

Quite the opposite of the TS010, the TOM’s Supra might be one of the most famous endurance racers of the modern era. A darling of the PlayStation generation, perhaps second only to the Calsonic Skyline GT-R (or not, depending on how you argue it) it’s a car that’s so seared into the brains of those growing up on the Gran Turismo games, they’ve even chosen to bring it back as a star car for GT7 next year.

Of course, it was also an actual car that did actual races, taking the fight to Nissan at the second running of the Japanese Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC) in 1995. Taking full advantage of the series rules, Toyota binned the 2JZ motor in favour of a development of the proven rally four-cylinder from the Championship-winning Celica. Lighter, more efficient and more powerful, it was a worthy stand-in for the bloated six-cylinders of the road cars, that gave the JGTC Supras the competitive edge. The car’s first victory at the Dendai Hi-Land Raceway happened to be the first drive of Masanori Sekiya the week after his incredible Le Mans victory in the McLaren F1 GTR alongside Yannick Dalmas and J.J. Lehto. 

The F1s actually followed Sekiya to the GT500 category in 1996 but their exit for 1997 meant it was all eyes on Toyota once more, for a spectacular season which ended in a unique tie-break between two Toyota teams. And so it would be for another four years, setting the foundations for the Castrol Supra as one of the great car-livery combinations. To this day a three-marque rivalry in Japanese GT racing remains, following Honda’s entrance to the fray in the later 1990s.


Toyota TS020

Toyota’s somewhat lukewarm sportscar experience with the TS010 could have put them off but the difficult transition from GT1 to LMP proved too tempting to miss. Right at the end of the road-associated era for these top-flight cars, came the Toyota TS020, better-known as the GT-One. A prototype by any other name, just two road-going examples of these pure racers were built, with Toyota arguing the empty fuel tank counted as luggage space.

It got them through though and very nearly the win at Le Mans, if not for what is now known as part of the long-running Toyota curse. A gearbox failure in the closing laps dashed Toyota’s hopes for the outright win it was fighting for in 1998. For 1999 the car was evolved into a fully-fledged GTP car after modified homologation rules pushed it out. Not that much modification was needed. Once again promising, the GT-Ones took first and second in qualifying. Once again, attrition claimed cars with a tyre blowout causing irreparable damage to Martin Brundle’s car. The last car remaining, chasing the BMW LMR for the lead, also lost a tyre, dashing its chances for an overall win. It got back out there for a GTP class win but as victories go, it was bittersweet for Toyota. A taste that would become familiar… Still, an incredible car all the same.


Toyota TS050

Toyota rejoined the World Endurance Championship for the hybrid era in 2012 and its trend of losing out at the hands of lady luck continued with mechanical failures, crashes and just not quite being on the pace. The potential of the TS040 that succeeded it was evident, with both the driver’s and manufacturer’s championships secured in 2014, if not the outright Le Mans win. That would be the job of the TS050.

Debuting in 2016 to fight Audi and Porsche in the closing years of the LMP era, the TS050 seemed like the car to break Toyota’s streak of DNFs and 2nd places (1992, 1994, 1999 and 2013!) as it took the lead and strode ahead. With the Porsche over a minute behind and just under seven minutes left of the race, trouble was brewing, as the leading #5 TS050 began to experience power loss. Risking it for the win, the team left the car out and Nakajima wound up having to stop with less than 3:30 to go. That meant that yes, the Porsche passed it on the final lap. 

So heartbreaking was the loss that even Porsche extended words of sympathy and deference to the deflated Toyota squad. It wouldn’t be until 2018, with Porsche and Audi having bowed out in the previous years, that the TS050 would finally claim victory at Le Mans. Hollow? Given the relative lack of competition, potentially. Given the work put in by Toyota over the years to get to that moment and given the strength of the TS050 platform, absolutely not. They’re now on their fourth win going relatively unchallenged, though the coming wave of LMH and LMDh entries will test Toyota properly once again.

TS050 image courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • List

  • Toyota

  • TS050

  • GT-One

  • TS010

  • Supra

  • Celica

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