Origami Oracle - 1982 TOM'S Toyota Celica C
In 1982, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile rolled out an entirely new range of classes sweeping the main categories of motorsport. In the past, the Group system had been based around numbers, which had been reused to a disastrously confusing degree.
In order to correct the mess, and at the same time address some of the issues encountered in the dark economic times of the late 1970's, the governing body presented a system based around the alphabet.
Along with Group A for touring car racing and rallying, Group B for GT's and also rallying, the FIA moved to reform top level sports prototype racing into Group C. This new category aimed to answer the questions posed by the developments of the previous decades.
First on the agenda was a solution to the tricky political climate around fuel consumption in the wake of the fuel crises. This was dealt with by restricting the cars to five fuel stops in every standard 1000 kilometer race, equivalent to 600 liters.
At the same time, the fuel limit served to stifle the influence of the increasingly prevalent turbo engines, preventing them from running at high boost all the time without regard for efficiency. This in turn would allow large, naturally aspirated engines to be competitive once more, allowing for a more liberal engine formula. Additionally, all cars would now be required to sport a fixed roof, aiding both fuel economy and safety.
Converted Group 6 machines were a common sight in the inaugural season, like this Joest 936C JR005 Porsche.
Due to the severely decreased interest in racing which had made the 1970s so difficult, progress was slow in the inaugural season of Group C. Apart from Porsche and Ford, nobody really had a pure Group C design ready for the start of the 1982 World Sportscar Championship.
In fact, even Lancia had to be given special dispensation to be allowed to run their ill-timed new Group 6 machine, the LC1. With no costumer cars available yet, smaller teams took to modifying older Group 6 designs, leading to cars like the Kremer CK5 and Joest 936C JR005, which heavily banked on the venerable Porsche 936.
The extreme Dome Celica LB Turbo was the last Toyota seen in European endurance racing prior to Group C.
However, a fourth big name was set to join the roster near the end of the season: Toyota. At the time, the firm was already largest automotive concern in all of Japan, engaged in a bitter battle with arch rival Nissan. Though the brand had been represented in rallying and Group 5 silhouette racing, Toyota hadn't been very active when it came to prototype racing.
The first mention of the name in terms of sportscar racing came in 1975, when Toyota supplied an engine to the small SIGMA team, which would later become SARD. Later on, the company would forge a bond with Japanese chassis builder Dome which had been competing at Le Mans in Group 6 with Cosworth power since 1979. The partnership resulted in the Celica LB Turbo Group 5 silhouette racer. The team took the car to Le Mans in 1980, but failed to qualify.
For 1982, Toyota called upon Dome again to design the first Japanese Group C car, but also involved in-house tuner Tachi Oiwa Motor Sport. With very little in the way of experience, the three partners set out to build a closed top prototype.
Toyota's role was relatively minor, as all it did was supply a base engine for TOM'S to modify. The decision was made to go the way of the small turbo engine, as the racer's powerplant would be based around T-engine architecture.
This family of engines dated back to 1970, and would reach new heights with a homologation version intended for Group B WRC competition. The resulting 2.1L 4T-GTE Twin Cam Turbo 16-valve electronically fuel injected version eventually found its way into TOM'S shop, and was swiftly brought up to 395 horsepower.
The engine was then mated to a Hewland 5-speed manual transmission, and attached to an aluminium monocoque chassis. As the straight four layout made it impossible to mount it as a stressed member, the motor was fitted into a lightweight cradle.
The monocoque was then fitted with front and rear subframes, which located the suspension components and the gearbox. As opposed to the already dominant Porsche 956, the Celica C did not feature ground effect underbody aerodynamics, as none of the three companies involved had dealt with the ethereal technology before. In all, the car weighed just 800 kg (1763 lbs)
The car was then fitted with a very rudimentary looking, incredibly square and angular fiberglass body. For marketing purposes, the origami-like machine was named after the popular Celica, the model from which the engine had been borrowed, and which would use a similar 4T-GTE to attack the world's rally stages.
With the relatively simple car sorted, it was entered in the local Suzuka 1000 Kilometers. Because the event didn't enjoy World Championship status, and Japan had no sportscar championship of their own, the TOM'S Celica C didn't have to measure up to the likes of the Porsche 956 and Ford C100 just yet.
Instead, it would have to deal with transferred homologations from Group 5 and 2.0L Group 6 cars. Though it was the only real Group C car, and it was driven by TOM's founder Nobuhide Tachi and experienced endurance racer Kaoru Hoshino, the car qualified disappointing 10th.
With a time of 2:17.880, the Celica C was a painful 9.84 seconds slower than the pole-sitting BMW M1 Group 5 of Fimuyasu Satou and Naoki Nagasaka. In another stark contrast, the BMW would go on to win the race, while the TOM'S would crash out early on.
After the disappointing performance at Suzuka, TOM'S moved on to race the car in its first World Championship event: the Fuji 6 Hours at Japan's other major track, Fuji Speedway. Japanese Formula Three driver Aguri Suzuki was added to the roster for the event, which saw much heavier competition than the Suzuka 1000 KM had provided.
Even so, the car performed a lot better on the long, flowing Fuji circuit. Although opposition from the factory Porsches and Lancias and a Rondeau M382 was too much for the car, it still qualified a respectable 7th.
Ahead were two Lancias, two Porsches, the Rondeau and a March 75SC 2.0L Group 6. At the head of the field was the Lancia LC2 of Michele Alboreto (ITA) and Piercarlo Ghinzani (ITA) with a time of 1:12.390. The Celica was some 8.48 seconds behind with a 1:20.870.
Luckily, the car would make it to the finish at Fuji, staying out of trouble to take a fine 5th place finish. The race win went to the Porsche 956 of Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx (BEL) and freshly retired F1-driver Jochen Mass (GER), 2 laps ahead of Tachi, Hoshino and Suzuki. Just as with Suzuki, the trio just lost out to the BMW M1 Group 5 of Satou and Nagasaka.
After these two appearances, the Celica C was retired. TOM'S, Dome and Toyota chose to move on from the rough design, as witnessing the immense speed of the Porsche 956 had convinced them a thorough rethink was needed to reach the front of the grid.
As such, TOM'S started work on the ground effect Toyota-powered 83C, while Dome retained Cosworth V8-power, but finally replaced its outdated RC82, which essentially date back to the 1979 Zero RL with the ground effect RC83.
All three companies would go on to a long and varied history in the category, but it all started with the rough, boxy, and underwhelming Celica C. In essence, the car would kick off a veritable Group C frenzy in Japan, as Toyota would soon be joined by Nissan and Mazda. Together, the three would make the new for 1983 All-Japan Sports Prototype Championship a resounding success.