Kudos this week to Toyota Australia for its on-going support of Australian motorsport.
It might be the subject of endless speculation about joining the Supercars grid, but Toyota’s real and ongoing motorsport focus is where it can make a difference.
That means the Toyota 86 Racing Series.
The most-successful one-make series of recent memory is now safe at least until the end of 2022 and celebration of the extended deal is marked by a name change to the TOYOTA Gazoo Racing Australia 86 Series, which picks up the global racing brand founded by Toyota’s global chief, Akio Toyoda.
The impact from the extension of this program cannot be underestimated.
At a time when all automakers are looking to cut costs, Toyota could have easily walked away and blamed COVID-19.
The fact it is staying, and continuing to back the youngsters in motorsport, speaks volumes for the brand’s commitment to competition as well as growing a coherent and credible performance brand that is already reflected in the GR Supra and will eventually include the pocket-rocket GR Yaris.
Rally champion Neal Bates is well aware of the way that Toyota works, and has been part of the family at Brand T since he won a Star Search contest for motorsport youngsters in 1989. He was up against all sorts of diverse champions, from speedway to superbikes, and shared the prize drive in a Corolla at Bathurst with two-wheeled ace Michael Dowson.
Bates’ skill and potential was recognised by Toyota Australia’s defacto motorsport boss Mike Breen, who was also one of the driving forces behind the 86 series. While Breen played the corporate politics, Bates racked up a series of national rally championships that has been extended by his son Harry.
When the 86 sports car arrived in the Toyota family there was obvious potential for a motorsport link, so Breen got working again on a package that included Bates, Neil Crompton as administrator, and others with mentoring potential including Targa Tasmania legend Greg Crick and former promoter Phil Harrison.
Now Australia’s favourite showroom brand is responsible for some of the most competitive action in Australian motorsport, as well as providing a way for youngsters to get started in championship-level racing – often direct from karting – without having to break the bank and many times with their family along for the ride.
The intention was always that a car could be built and run from the family garage, not a Supercars workshop.
The 86 series has also showcased some of the country’s best up-and-coming talent.
The winners of the first two championships, Will Brown and Jimmy Vernon, are not yet household names but Brown is being fast-tracked in Supercars with Erebus Motorsport and is a carsales TCR Australia Series champion driving a Hyundai i30 N for HMO Racing, while Vernon is a podium contender in Trans Am.
The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Australia 86 Series provides a sensible and affordable step on the ladder to the top of Australian motorsport and Toyota Australia should be applauded for its renewed commitment.