As one of the very few manufacturers Toyota was active in Group C from the beginning in 1982 all the way to the end in 1993. For the most part the Japanese team struggled to be competitive, but in the end their persistence paid off. Helped by a drastic rule change, Toyota finally bridged the gap with the competition. The new regulations were based around the 3.5 litre displacement limit also used in Formula 1 and created by the FIA to lure some of the major manufacturers from the hugely popular sports car racing to F1. In 1990 and 1991 the 3.5 litre cars were run side by side with the existing Group C cars, but from 1992 onwards only new cars were allowed to race. As one of the last manufacturers Toyota jumped ship and introduced their 3.5 litre Group C car, the TS010, during the last race of the 1991 season.
Toyota broke with tradition by employing a non-Japanese designer to pen the TS010. Having previously developed the Le Mans winning Jaguars, Tony Southgate was the ideal candidate to bring the Japanese manufacturer closer to the top. He was faced with an easier task than the engine designers as the chassis and aero regulations had not been modified much. Most importantly this meant that 'ground effects' was still completely legal. Inspired by the TS010's elegant predecessors, Southgate came up with a simple but effective shape. The new body panels covered a state of the art carbon fibre monocoque, suspended by double wishbones all around.
For the company's engine designers the TS010 meant a fresh start as the existing twin-Turbo V8 engine was no longer eligible. Perhaps inspired by the Renault and Ferrari F1 engines of the day they drafted up a V10 engine with a five valves per cylinder head. The new engine was constructed from aluminium alloys and had a V-angle of 72-degrees. At full pelt, it produced well over 700 bhp, but for reliability reasons the performance was pegged back to around 600 bhp for long distance races. Mated to a six speed gearbox, the engine was bolted to the monocoque, although not as a fully stressed member. The completed machine weighed in at 750 kg; the minimum weight dictated by the regulations.
As mentioned earlier the TS010 first raced late in 1991, during the 430 km race at Autopolis in Japan. It was the perfect opportunity to size up the competition as Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Peugeot had all brought their 3.5 litre Group C cars for the final round of the World Championship. The fresh Toyota finished a promising sixth and just three laps behind the winning Mercedes-Benz. A winter's worth of developing would most certainly be sufficient to bring the TS010 right to the head of the field. Sadly it was not just Toyota's hard work that brought that about; both Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz withdrew from the world championship. The Jaguars lived on as the Judd engined Mazda MXR-01, but the only real competition from the Japanese manufacturer was Peugeot.
A team of two Toyotas travelled to Monza for the opening round of the 1992 World Championship. Sadly only ten other cars joined them including two Peugeots and two Mazdas. Even though the world championship was in an absolute dire state, the cars themselves were absolutely superb. The Peugeot that claimed pole position set a lap time faster than Nigel Mansell's fastest lap in the Formula 1 race later in the season, despite the considerable weight disadvantage. Although the new 3.5 litre cars were incredibly quick, they also proved very fragile. At Monza just four cars were classified, but most importantly it was one of the Toyotas that took the flag first, recording the company's very first World Championship win. Throughout the season, the Toyotas and Peugeots were closely matched. Building on two years of experience with their V10-engined machine, Peugeot did have the edge.
The legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans was the third and obviously most important round of the championship. Here the old Group C cars were still eligible to run, so Toyota brought three TS010s and one V8-engined 92C-V. Peugeot were clearly interested in pleasing the partisan crowd and clinched the pole by quite a wide margin. In the race it evened out quite nicely, although the Peugeots proved to be the most consistent and reliable. Toyota walked away from the TS010's first Le Mans with a second place finish and a fastest lap. Among the team that finished second was Masanori Sekiya and he became the first Japanese to climb the podium at Le Mans. In the final three rounds of the championship Toyotas finished on the podium every time, but all races were won by Peugeot.
Throughout the 1992 season the full force of the rule change was felt and due to the lack of interest the calendar had already been shortened from ten races to six. During the final race at Magny Cours just eight cars lined up for the start; three Peugeots, two Toyotas, two Spices and one Mazda. It came as no surprise when it was announced that the 1993 World Sportscar Championship was cancelled. The FIA had managed to kill a hugely popular championship within a few years and all this to make sure that Formula 1 remained the pinnacle of motor sport. Their ploy to attract more manufacturers to single seater racing also paid off as within a few years Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot were engine suppliers. A few years later Toyota also joined, but not before having another go at sports car racing.
The end of the World Championship did not terminate the career of the Toyota TS010 just yet. The annual highlight on the sports car calendar was certainly not cancelled and Toyota sent no fewer than five cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Three brand new TS010s and two of the old Group C cars now upgraded to 93C-V specification. Needless to say the Peugeots again formed the biggest competition for outright victory. The French team made no mistake and claimed pole and more importantly a commanding 1-2-3 victory. One Toyota retired, while the others finished in fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth. The two 93C-Vs offered some comfort to Toyota by finishing first and second in the C2 class. The 1993 Le Mans was the end of one of the greatest eras of sports car racing and from 1994 onwards Le Mans was disputed by production based GT-cars.
Toyota did not give up and set about developing an open prototype racer, which was tested but never raced. They returned to Le Mans in 1998 with the hugely impressive TS020 or GT-One and sadly again managed no better than second. Raced for only a season and two races, the TS010 remains as Toyota's most successful Group C racer. Together with the Peugeot 905, the TS010 remains as one of the fastest sports racers ever constructed. They were almost as quick as contemporary Formula 1 cars and on modern rubber should certainly still be able to match the times of the current Le Mans racers. To the delight of many Toyota brought on of the TS010s to the 2008 Goodwood Festival of Speed where it provided great aural and visual pleasures.
I know they were too expensive to continue, but I do wish cars like this could race again. So fast, so pretty... It's amazing how little gets written about the TS010, or any of the final generation of Groupe C cars. But just look at it, what a machine.