As a racing version, the Toyota GT-One TS020 is known to some people, but that it also existed as a road-going variant is one of the lesser-known facts. Two examples were built for homologation purposes to compete in the GT1 and LM-GTP categories at Le Mans in 1998 and 1999. There it became partly very exciting against competitors from Germany, the UK, France, Japan and the USA. However, it only ended with a second place in the second attempt. When Toyota announced in the mid-1990s that it wanted to return to Le Mans with a works team, expectations weren’t set too high. After all, the period after the Group C era still belonged to the phase of the endurance classic that was well staffed with works teams. For the 1998 race, Toyota was joined by factory teams from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, Nissan and Panoz. In addition, there were private but factory-supported teams with vehicles such as the McLaren F1 GTR and Dodge Viper GTS-R.
From 25 to one homologation car
But in order for the field to reach this size, the paricipating GT1 race cars first had to be homologated, i.e. approved by the racing authorities. Clear regulations had been drawn up for this purpose. In addition to the size of the wings and wheels or the amount of fuel in the tank, these also stipulated a certain lineage to production vehicles. For this reason, 25 road-legal variants of the race cars were mandatory for the previous season. For 1998, the ACO reduced this to just one such car. A fact that was radically exploited by some manufacturers. They developed consistent race cars and designed the necessary street version so radically that it just barely received approval and then rolled into the in-house museum. It was no longer necessary to prove a sale to private individuals. These manufacturers included Porsche and Nissan as well as Toyota, whose GT-One TS020 was probably one of the most aggressive GT1 cars.
V8 biturbo engine with 630 hp
The aerodynamics, which have been refined in the wind tunnel, are particularly eye-catching. The air is directed specifically around and over the free-standing wheel arches. At the rear, it meets a massive wing. At the front, the wheel arches are open on the inside, which prevents air congestion and allows the driver to keep an eye on the condition of the front wheels. For the road version, space was created in the narrow interior for two sports bucket seats. Like the dashboard, headliner and door panels, these are upholstered in brown Alcantara. The lower seat and shoulder areas as well as the steering wheel are covered in brown leather. The GT-One is RHD. Carpeting is also finished in red to match the exterior paint. Behind the passengers is a 3.6-liter V8 biturbo engine that produced around 463 kW/630 hp in racing mode. The road versions were slightly detuned, but exact technical data are not available. Toyota gave a kerb weight of 920 kilograms for 1998.
From the GT1 to the LM-GTP class
At Le Mans, the Toyota factory team wasn’t lucky with the GT-One. In 1998, Geoff Lee, Ralf Kelleners and Thierry Boutsen were promisingly in the running with the number 29 car. They could even have won under certain circumstances, but after 330 laps a gearbox failure brought their race to an early end. The sister car with start number 28 had already retired halfway through the race. And the third car with number 27 finally rolled to the finish in 9th place, 25 laps down. A year later, the starting list no longer looked quite so impressive. In it, only Audi with an R8C and Mercedes-Benz with the newly developed CLR competed alongside the Toyota team in LM-GTP. However, after two media-effective saltos, the Swabians withdrew their three cars. Toyota had to hold its own above all against the increasingly strong open-wheel prototypes in the LMP category.
Second place after puncture
In the final phase of the race, the GT-One of Ukyo Katayama, Keiichi Tsuchiya and Toshio Suzuki was promisingly in second place before the final pit stops. A puncture on the left rear thwarted all hopes of first place. With a lot of luck, the car was brought back to the pits and then across the finish line in second place. After another race appearance at the 1000 miles of Fuji, all GT-One cars rolled into the museum. Why Toyota built two instead of one road car will probably remain a mystery. Possibly in order to be able to show one vehicle each at both the headquarters in Japan and the motorsport headquarters in Cologne, Germany. After the Le Mans races, the company turned its attention to the Formula 1 factory entry. For this purpose, the GT-One test chassis was brought out to test engine and chassis parts of the later Formula 1 car. Only one of the seven examples built is in private ownership.
Images: Toyota, Matthias Kierse