Toyota has been involved in world-wide Motorsports since it entered a Toyota Crown in the 1957 F1 Australian Rally. However, it took a little longer for Toyota to bring their racing vehicles to America. Even though 2007 marked Toyota’s 50th year of doing business in the United States, Toyota only started to become a force in American Motorsports in 1983. In that time, it has employed a consistent strategy; start small, develop strong partnerships with owners and drivers, and then win championships.
In 1983, Toyota backed two professional programs in the United States for the first time. They entered Celicas in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) road racing competition, and they began building trucks for off road and stadium competitions.
Cementing a plan for victory, Toyota joined forces with Dan Gurney in 1983 to compete in the IMSA. Gurney was already a proven winner in the F1 circuit when he brought his All American Racers (AAR) teams to Toyota. Between 1983 and 1988, Toyota achieved 24 GTO and GTU IMSA victories, and in 1987 won the GTO Manufacturer’s and Drivers Championship.
Cal Wells III also partnered with Toyota in 1983 to build Toyota racing trucks. Wells used his company, Precision Preparation Inc. (PPI) and drivers like Gordon, the Millen brothers, and Ivan Stewart to become a force to reckon with. During Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s first two years with PPI, he won six class victories, and then in 1993 he went on to win Toyota’s first Baja 1000 victory. During the 1993 season, Toyota won all three of the “Crown Jewels” of desert racing: the Nevada 400, the Baja 500, and the Baja 1000. Toyota is the only manufacturer to capture all three races in the same season.
Toyota added the CART competition (Champ Car) to their list of events in 1996. Toyota presented the US 500 from 1997 to 1999, and then, in 2000, the race name changed to the Michigan 500 presented by Toyota.
In 2000, Toyota made a move into NASCAR with its V6-Celica. Eric Van Cleef, of Van Cleef Racing, drove the #82 Toyota Celica in the Goody’s Dash program. The Celica of 2000 used a revolutionary 24-valve four-cam V-6 engine.
Just three years later Gil de Ferran, in 2003, capped his illustrious career of 345 races when he won the Indianapolis 500 for Toyota.
2007 saw Toyota participating in the NASCAR Nextel Cup for the first time, despite some opposition from some fans. NASCAR had traditionally been dominated by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Toyota theorized that NASCAR fans tend to buy from the brands featured in the sport. Wanting to gain a foothold in Middle America’s car market, Toyota planned to capture the “Heartland” by giving NASCAR fans a Toyota Camry to root for. Toyota started their 2007 season with three teams and six cars.
Moving towards the 2008 season, Toyota partnered with Joe Gibbs. Gibbs won three Nextel Cup championships in the past, and Toyota banked on the fact that Gibbs could bring home championships for them.