Experiencing Toyota's Motorsports Past and Present

Toyota Motosport GmbH is based in Cologne, Germany. I trekked to Germany to learn more about them and one spot to do just that is at their factory, and their small, but very impressive, museum. The museum sort of spoke to me about the soul of that organization all the way from their rally history, to the F1 team that was always so close to perfection, to the new LMP1 program, which has dealt major blows to Audi and Porsche on a much smaller budget.
As I walked around the factory, and ducked under the piping around the heritage cars I was in awe of all of the history and passion parked around me. The museum is actually situated under the wind tunnels, so every now and then you must duck to avoid beaming yourself on the piping around the room. So I was also aware of that as well.

TMG has been around for a long time. From the original prototype race cars, to Carlos Sainz senior’s rally days, to the brilliant but never quite perfect F1 program, to the championship winning LMP1 cars they focus on today. But you wouldn’t know all that when you approach the factory. It’s nestled away in the Toyota of Germany compound in a discreet building. The only clues of what lies within are the gatehouse where I had to surrender my phone to have some cute little stickers placed over my phone camera. Security first you know?

The lobby is full of the awards and souvenirs that you would expect of a multiple race winning team. Also on display is the never raced 2010 Toyota F1 car. It sat in bare carbon on a plinth on the right of the doors. Seeing it so openly and proudly displayed told me a lot about the spirit of TMG. Even if the program never tasted victory, and even with this stillborn car, they are fiercely proud of everything they have done. They own their failures as much as they own their successes, and that is something that is so rare for a race outfit that it must be celebrated.
Touring the factory reminds you of all of the amazingly specialized equipment a modern race team needs to prepare and manufacture their cars for their LMP1 or F1 campaigns. From suspension jigs, to giant CNC machines as large as a Starbucks, to beautiful clean rooms where carbon fibre is prepared and laid into molds. It’s all very impressive and really shows where all of the millions of dollars in budget ends up. The engine dyno is just another piece of that puzzle. Combine all of these machines with the random bits of past cars you find around, and all paints a brilliant picture.

As we made our way into the bowels of the facility, under the amazing wind tunnels I mentioned before, I was starting to find the real soul of the TMG organization. These people are racers through and through, but they still felt like more than that. For such a successful organization they still seem hungry and fiercely independent for being, well, part of Toyota. It’s refreshing and exciting. Stepping into the museum only kept that feeling of excitement going. From the full lineup of rally cars, to the F1 wing, to a pristine LFA hanging about with the prototype cars, and then the truly unique GT-One “Road Car.” It’s a special place.
Taking the tour through the cars and learning some history about some of those I hadn’t heard had the charm of the wind tunnel above us kicking on for minutes at a time, turning the conversation into a bit of a shout about some very special cars. That and getting the opportunity to awkwardly climb into one of the LMP1 machines was something I relished. From funny anecdotes about leaving engine intake covers on, to musing on the changes from year to year, to the championship winning TS040. It was great to see so much pride in what they’ve already accomplished in Prototype racing.

As I wandered through the F1 section, remembering seeing these beautiful machines scream through the years of battle, it took my breath away to see the evolution of F1 rules through the years be represented in order, in the flesh. Different aero, different engines, all on display to compare and contrast with one another. The might of Toyota on the F1 stage. Not a failure, but never what it should have been. Still awe-inspiring. And that’s when I made up my mind about who the good people at TMG really are. They are the underdogs in what they do, not because they don’t always have the budget or talent, but because that’s who they are. They like surprising people with speed and humility. They will not be marked by their failure at LeMans this year. They are not marked by never winning in F1. They are stronger because of that. And that strength will keep them going for so many years to come.
[Disclaimer: TMG flew me over to Germany to tour their facilities and check out the Nurburgring and their customer car programs. They paid for my hotels and got me a few beers along the way.]

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