Toyota Celica GT Four put Japan on top of WRC

Japanese cars have been present in the World Rally Championship since the very beginning. They got high reputation in the toughest races, obtaining multiple victories in Safari, Acropolis or Bandama/Ivory Coast Rallies. Especially remarkable are the 4 wins in a row Shekhar Mehta obtained between 1979 and 1982 in the Safari Rally driving a Datsun/Nissan car. Also, Nordic drivers such as Bjorn Waldegaard, Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen, Hannu Mikkola or Rauno Aaltonen drove Japanese cars to victory and podiums in European rallies such as 1000 Lakes, Sweden or Montecarlo.

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B.Waldegaard/H.Thorszelius, Toyota Celica Twin Cam Turbo, 1984 Safari Rally, 1st

Toyota first step into success came very soon, when in 1973 a Swedish successful rally driver, Ove Andersson, took part in some rallies of the WRC with a 1600 GT. Soon after he received support from Toyota to create a small rally team in Sweden, which after a brief stay in Brussels was definitively installed in Cologne (Germany). There it became the team that led the Japanese manufacturer to success, the Toyota Team Europe (TTE). Team first victory came in 1982 Motogard Rally in New Zealand by Bjorn Waldegaard. During Group B years, Toyota could only offer Andersson the front-engine rear-wheel drive Celica Twin-cam Turbo, which was easily relegated by the more powerful and effective four-wheel drive cars, such as Audi, Peugeot or Lancia. The car included a distinctive oil cooler mounted on the boot lid, over the spoiler. See Homologation form here.

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B.Waldegaard/H.Thorszelius, Toyota Celica Twin Cam Turbo, 1985 Safari Rally, 2ond

However, the car was able to obtain an impressive series of six victories in Safari and Ivory Coast rallies between 1983 and 1986, which encouraged the Japanese manufacturer to reinforce TTE and transform it into a regular rally winner team. When group B and S were cancelled in 1986, Toyota could only offer Andersson to choose between their range of production cars, and he had no other option than choosing the fourth generation of the Celica, named GT-Four (ST165 as internal code), even though it was far from what he needed to create a winning machine. To the credit of TTE, they converted a road car into a rally winner in little more than one year, led by engineering skills of Karl Heinz Goldstein and driving and testing abilities of Juha Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz, who started then to build his reputation as a painstaking and tireless test driver. Car debut was on Tour de Corse 1988, only a few days after the car was homologated (Homologation Form).

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K.Eriksson/P.Diekmann, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST-165), 1988 Tour de Corse, 6th

The GT-Four was not conceived as a rally car, so when the decision was taken, it was too late to modify its design. The smooth, aero-efficient body included a sloping nose ended with pop-up headlamps, which resulted to be the major point of controversy in terms of aerodynamics and cooling. In an attempt to improve aerodynamics, lights could only be raised when needed, reducing drag coefficient to an incredible 0.31. However, the car suffered from the beginning of poor engine and transmission cooling, due to reduced airflow entering into the transverse engine bay. TTE decided to move front indicators to the car sides, in order to allow air entering by the relieved holes. But the factory decided to blank them before car homologation, leaving no choice for TTE other than replacing the pop-up headlamps of the road car with smaller fixed ones, allowing air to enter into engine bay by the space created alongside.

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J.Kankkunen/J.Piironen, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 165) 1989 Rally Sanremo, 5th

Unfortunately, FISA ruled this out for 1990, and the Celicas had to run with the road car headlamps configuration in the raised position on night and daytime stages to allow more air entering into the engine bay.

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C.Sainz/L.Moya, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 165), 1990 Rally Acropolis, 1st

Until 1988, rally drivers were classified according to their specialization in one or more surfaces, and they rarely took part in rallies on another type of surfaces. When Carlos Sainz convinced Andersson to take part in all the races, he made the first step to what was going to be his first Drivers World Title in 1990 and the end of the domination of the European manufacturers in the Championship. Between 1989 and 1992, the car got thirteen victories in the WRC and, most important, placed Toyota as the most serious contender to break Lancia’s domination on the Championship since 1987.

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C.Sainz/L.Moya, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 165), 1991 Rally Catalunya, ret.

Fifth generation (ST 185) of Toyota Celica design included most of the improvements the TTE identified but could not implement in the previous version. Cooling problems were partially solved by introducing an engine bonnet vent, designed to vent air out of the engine bay. The new car was an evolution of the previous model with a rounded design and no straight edges. It included a detached rear spoiler partially integrated on the rear body (Homologation Form).

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C.Sainz/L.Moya, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 185), 1992 RAC Rally, 1st.

The ST185 version of the Celica Turbo was the most successful Toyota car ever, as it crowned three different drivers with very different styles: after Sainz’ second title in 1992, Juha Kankkunnen got his fourth crown in 1993 and Didier Auriol his first in 1994.

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J.Kankkunen/D.Giraudet, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 185), 1993 1000 Lakes Rally, 1st.

And the team finally obtained the title in the Manufacturers Championship in 1993, breaking Lancia’s domination of the previous six years; a title they also conquered in 1994.

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D.Auriol/B.Occelli, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST185), Tour de Corse 1994, 1st

By mid-1994 Toyota presented the new version of the car, named internally ST205. Only Juha Kankkunen drove the new car that year, first in Australia (where he finished second behind Mcrae, in a year in which Australia was not included in the Championship) and then in Sanremo and in the RAC Rally, where he finished second, again behind the Scottish driver.

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J.Kankkunen/N.Grist, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 205), 1994 RAC Rally, 2ond

Didier Auriol was fighting for the title on that rally and preferred to drive the ST 185 car. So he discovered the new car in the first race of the 1995 season, the Montecarlo Rally.

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D.Auriol/B.Occelli, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST205), 1995 Rally Montecarlo, ret.

The new GT Four was based on the Celica 6th generation, which changed from 4-door to a coupe. It incorporated a small hood-mounted spoiler at the windscreen washers and a medium size rear spoiler, effective on downforce and with minimal impact on drag, according to Toyota. To increase downforce, the spoiler was elevated up to convert it into a prolongation of the boot lid, by adding raisers of different height. Also, additional air intakes were added to the car front to ensure proper engine cooling, while raising headlamps were abandoned by a four-headlamp set integrated into the body design.

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F.Loix/S.Smeets, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 205), 1996 Rally Acropolis (picture by Leszek Kusmirek – ewrc.cz)

Introduction of a 34mm restrictor at the turbo inlet in 1995 by regulation reduced the power of the cars, making the Celica lose his advantage on power, and someone in the team decided to use an illegal device to allow more air entering into the turbo. In the Rally Catalunya a marshal (firefighter by profession) detected the device and the team received a humiliating 12-month ban, which in fact supposed the final page of the official Celica story in rallying.

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J.Kankkunen/J.Piironen, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 205), 1995 Rally Catalunya, ret.

In 1996, Juha Kankkunen was allowed to take part in the Championship with a private Toyota Celica GT Four, reaching the second position in 1000 Lakes Rally. Also, Freddie Loix, Ian Duncan or Marcus Grönholm took part in some races as privateers.

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M.Grönholm/T.Rautianen, Toyota Celica GT Four (ST 205), 1996 Swedish Rally, 7th

Fortunately, other Japanese manufacturers such as Mitsubishi and Subaru had started to follow Toyota’s path into the WRC and they were ready to take the Japanese flag to victory, until Toyota’s comeback in the late nineties, this time with the Corolla.

And it was Subaru who extended the Japanese dominance over the WRC in the 90’s.

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