Toyota’s brilliant 2018 season saw them win the WRC’s manufacturers’ championship in just their second year back in the sport.
Their recent successes, however, are a far cry from 1995, when the factory Toyota team were caught blatantly cheating and banned for 12 months.
It was, without doubt, the company’s darkest hour in motorsport.
Here’s what when down back in 1995 ….
At an extraordinary World Motor Sport Council meeting on November 3, Toyota Team Europe was excluded from the 1995 World Rally Championship and suspended from competition for 12 months.
This came as a result of competing in Catalunya with a turbo restrictor that failed the scrutineer’s inspection on three counts:
1. The restrictor was not sealed so it was possible to move it without touching the seals;
2. It was possible for air to enter the engine without passing the restrictor, and;
3. The position of the restrictor could be moved so it was further away from the turbine than the 50mm limit permitted.
FIA President, Max Mosley, said Toyota’s air inlet system was “The most sophisticated and ingenious device I have ever seen in 30 years of motorsport, or indeed had any other member of the World Council, scrutineers or technical experts.
“The marvel of the system was that it was completely concealed under a hose which encased the restrictor and joined the turbocharger body with the air filter. When the system was dismantled there was no way of telling anything irregular had existed.”
Mosley said the system was put into operation when the restrictor was assembled. As the restrictor was attached to the turbocharger body it was covered by an all-encasing hose.
This hose was then tightened with three jubilee clips. One of these required a special tool to operate it, because it was used to pull the restrictor outwards from its casing.
This movement not only served to aid the airflow into the turbine blades, but more importantly, opened up a 5mm gap through which extra air could enter the engine on the engine-side of the legal constriction.
The final clip then clamped the restrictor in its new position with claws. When the restrictor was dismantled the three clips had to be undone.
When the central clip was loosened, the claws released their grip on the restrictor, which then regained its original and legal position.
The spring against which the restrictor was tightly held was a flange, which appeared at first glance to be a closely fitting device aimed at locating the restrictor in an air-tight attachment to its casing.
It served, in fact, as a diaphragm spring. It allowed the restrictor to move outwards by 5mm, leaving a 5mm ring between the restrictor and its casing, through which the extra air could pass.
Mosley emphasised that the body in front of the World Council was the team.
“The Toyota Motor Company itself was at no stage invited to appear before the World Council because there was no reason to suppose they were in any way aware of what was going on.”
The ban as applied to Toyota Team Europe would have no effect on the Toyota Motor Company, but if Toyota Team Europe appeared in another guise, it was unlikely the FIA would accept such an entry during the period of suspension.
“The drivers are unfortunately also automatically excluded when a car is excluded because of illegality. There is, however, nothing to suggest that the drivers were aware of what was going on,” Mosley said.
* * * * *
LOOKING BACK - 23 years on
The Toyota turbocharger regularity saga had been bubbling away under the surface for some time.
There was no doubt that the cars’ performance at Telstra Rally Australia put TTE under suspicion after the rally world witnessed the Toyotas’ impressive speed alongside the 555 Subarus on Riverside Drive, part of the Langley Park super special stage that year.
Leaving the start line along the bitumen road, the Celicas were visibly quicker than the Subarus.
Nicky Grist, who was co-driving for Toyota star Juha Kankkunen in the event, said recently that the drivers, and most likely team boss Ove Andersson, knew nothing about the turbo irregularities.
Grist said that Toyota erred badly by first using the restrictors on a tarmac stage that was telecast live, and where the Celicas were side-by-side with other cars.
He suggested that had the team elected to fit the restrictors after the Super Special Stage, then no one would have been able to compare the Celica’s speed against their rivals, and that they may not have ever been caught.
For the good of the sport, thankfully they were caught – and quickly – and the 12 month ban sent a clear message to everyone that cheating would not be accepted.
Toyota’s success in 2018 has done plenty to erase the memories of 1995, but for those of us who remember the ‘turbogate’ saga, it’s a time we won’t forget.
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