Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe is Motorsports Mecca for Racing Fans

The home of Toyota racing and everything GR.

By Dan Heyman Wheels.ca

Aug 3, 2023 5 min. read

Article was updated 2 months ago

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COLOGNE, GERMANY - Nestled in a business park just outside of town and bordering on a farmland landscape dotted with cozy hamlets, there’s a building. With its fascia finished in corrugated steel, painted white with black window frames, it’s a pretty unassuming place. Not much going on until you have to show your credentials at the gatehouse to enter Willy Wonka’s Car Factory.

Actually, more like “Kiichiro Toyoda’s Car Factory” because as soon as you step through those double sliding doors you’re in the world of Toyota and Toyota motorsports at Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe (TGR-E). For our visit, we’re greeted by the brand’s latest entry in the World Rally Championship (where Toyota has won the manufacturer’s championship for two years running), simply called the “GR Yaris Rally 1”.

Toyota Gazoo racing europe

Come by at another time (tours are done via private group bookings only) and you may see one of Toyota’s World Endurance Championship (WEC) entrants such as the G010 prototype. That car, developed in-house, makes Toyota one of only two WEC competitors along with Ferrari that builds everything but their race car’s rubber. Sometimes, you may simply see one of GR’s road cars – say, the Supra – because what happens here doesn’t stop at the track. In fact, far from it.

“Most of you know us as home of the Le Mans team or home of the rally team,” said Thomas Heidbrink, events and communications manager at TGR-E. “(We could be working on) charging infrastructure, parts of our hybrid system, or it could be chassis elements or CNC.” Almost everything with the GR logo attached to it will get its start here.

They can build parts and components for the rally car that will eventually get shipped to Finland – where most of their rally testing happens – to be assembled on-site there. They could be working on the gearbox for their Le Mans racer, or even making use of their on-site wind tunnel.

Toyota Gazoo racing europe

Indeed, you don’t have to look too far back into the annals of motorsport to see that it wasn’t that long ago – from 2002 to 2008 – that Toyota had their own F1 team. From wing to wing, the Toyota F1 efforts were basically a solo effort, with Toyota foregoing the usual path of pairing up with a different engine supplier or chassis developer.

After the F1 effort stopped in 2008, the show went on at TGR-E.

“After signing off of the F1 project,” said Heidbrink, “150-200 people (that hailed at times from up to 32 countries) stayed at Toyota to think about how we can use our facilities.” After all; TGR-E was a huge investment for the manufacturer and they weren’t about to let that all go to waste just because the F1 program was defunct.

They are proud of those F1 efforts, however; a walk through the facility will take you past, among other things, clay mock-ups of the F1 car, a row of diecast models of every F1 car built, and even various part assemblies, proudly on display with a plaque describing their function.

It’s a great look at how the work done at TGR-E can filter down to a world a little more familiar and accessible to you and me – that of the road car.

Toyota Gazoo racing europe

“There are reasons why we do WRC or WEC,” said Heidbrink. “For a company like Porsche, (Le Mans) is a big marketing tool. That’s not they way we are doing it. We are doing racing to develop technologies.” The proof is in the pudding; take a walk further into the facility (a massive complex that encompasses everything from the aforementioned wind tunnel and CNC shop, to a seven-post chassis rig, composites shop, engine design labs and more) and you’ll come across the area where they prepare their GT3 and GT4 Supra racers. These are race cars, but the rules governing those classifications are there to ensure that what you find in the race car can also be found, to some degree, in the road car. In the halls of GR, race car and road car tech meet in fascinating ways.

For those who like looking at the shiny finished product rather than its bits, the brightly lit service bays where everything from GR Le Mans prototypes to rare motors are groomed and cleaned is the spot. During our visit, both the ultra-rare Lexus LFA and even rarer Toyota 2000GT made an appearance; that’s probably over $1,000,000 in cars right there, and that’s before we even spin 180 degrees to take in the four Le Mans prototypes on jacks, getting ready for deployment to race tracks the world over. With the cars, the transport rigs, the toolboxes, the tires and the spare body panels it really is as if you’re walking through a paddock at Le Mans.

Toyota Gazoo racing europe

The crown jewel of the experience, however, has to be what can only be referred to as a shrine to all things GR and Toyota motorsport. Hidden behind a bunker-like bay door they sit: an example of every F1 car Toyota has ever built, rally cars such as Carlos Sainz Sr’s Castrol-liveried Corolla, a stillborn Group B-spec Celica rally car, race-worn overalls, helmets and gloves, and most every example of Toyota’s recent Le Mans entries, including the TS050 Hybrid that won overall from 2018-20.

Then comes what you might say is the Holy Grail of Toyota GT-Racing. Anybody familiar with racing -- or Gran Turismo -- will recognize the red-and-white livery, sinister black wheels and Esso stickers of Toyota’s honest-to-God effort to return a Japanese manufacturer to the podium at Le Mans: The Toyota TS020, better known as the GT-One. They failed, but a cult classic was born, and with it, a road car of which only one exists, and it's right here.

It doesn’t get much rarer than that and it’s almost criminal that it’s all hidden away. The best part? There are no guardrails or barriers and you can walk right up to the exhibits for a closer look; ask nicely, and they might even let you open the doors and sit inside.

It puts a great exclamation point on the experience. To be able to walk those hallowed halls and then see the manifestation of years – no, decades – of work “in the metal”. That’s a rare thing.



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