The Greatest Group A Rally Cheating Scandal You've Never Heard Of

All Hail Toyoda

The Toyota Celica. That car you saw growing up that you thought looked kinda cool. We never got the fun GT-S and GT-4 in the '90s here in the States, but the GT and ST were still a ton of fun. This cute car was the center of one of the most genius cheats in the history of motorsports.

So, on to the story. It's well known that motorsports is chock full of cheating, ranging from a "relaxed" interpretation of the rule book to massive, genius plans to circumvent safety and other restrictions. That's part of what makes racing so great: all the ways that teams try to squeeze any advantage they can lay their hands on. There are tons of stories of fantastic cheats, from LITERALLY everything that goes on in spec Miata, to entire cars, like the legendary The Brabham BT-46C. But the one I'd like to cover here is my personal favorite: the Toyota Team Europe Turbo Celica cheat of 1995.

This is fairly well known, but it still seems to be talked about less than it really ought to be for something so incredibly genius. It was so genius and so elegant, such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, that Toyota was actually applauded and complimented by the FIA ruler makers. So let's get into it.

The Backstory

Toyota Team Europe had been racing GT-Four in the WRC series with much success for several years. Competition was, of course, extremely difficult: so of course, every team was trying to find any possible advantage. Toyota found one in an obscure place: an FIA safety ruling.

Hey, rally drivers like going fast too!

With increasing speeds and multiple crashes (Hey, rally drivers like going fast too!) due largely to higher and higher horsepower, turbocharged cars, the FIA mandated that all turbocharged engines be fitted with restrictor plates, limiting the amount of air the turbochargers could intake, and thus limiting boost. This restrictor plate was the focal point of Toyota's lucrative "loophole."

The "Loophole"

I'll just cut straight to the chase. Toyota entirely redesigned its entire turbocharger to include the restrictor plate, but disengage it when the turbocharger was actually installed on the car.

Toyota didn't just create an inoperative restrictor plate, that would have been too easy and too obvious. WRC officials were excellent at detecting such trickery, yet Toyota managed to fool even them.

The brilliance of this cheat was that when the turbo was removed to be inspected, it appeared to be a standard, compliant, turbocharger. It was installation itself that changed the geometry of the turbocharger, allowing for greater boost. the below diagram illustrates the subtle differences that had such a huge effect.

Toyota's Master Stroke: An extra 5mm, only present with the turbocharger installed, allowed for a 25% increase in airflow.

Toyota's Master Stroke: An extra 5mm, only present with the turbocharger installed, allowed for a 25% increase in airflow.

The Fallout

Inside it was beautifully made... It is the most sophisticated and ingenious device either I or the FIA’s technical experts have seen for a long-time.

Max mosley, fia president

Max Mosley, then president of the FIA, summed up the genius of the cheat best: “Inside it was beautifully made. The springs inside the hose had been polished and machined so not to impede the air which passed through. To force the springs open without the special tool would require substantial force. It is the most sophisticated and ingenious device either I or the FIA’s technical experts have seen for a long-time. It was so well made that there was no gap apparent to suggest there was any means of opening it.”

While it's still not known how the FIA "wised up" to Toyota's wrongdoing, it's likely a whistleblower was involved. Toyota was banned from the WRC for the rest of the season, and would never see such widespread rally success again. Toyota's management insists to this day that it had no knowledge of the cheat, as do the drivers. Twelve months later, Toyota Team Europe was back racing.

Sure, Toyota cheated. But with a cheat this beautiful, it's hard to be angry, even if you are the FIA. In true Japanese and Toyota fashion, Toyota even over-engineered a cheating mechanism. And they did it beautifully at that.

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Comments (9)

  • Rallying was full of tricks like this. Ford had a compressor tank in the bumper of their Focus circa 2002 so as you lifted off the turbo would build boost into the tank, and then deploy the stored boost as you get back on the throttle coming out of a corner, thus mitigating turbo boost.

    There’s also been paper restrictors used, so you could poke a stick in, yup you’ve got a plate in there, but as soon as you turn it on, the paper is sucked through, burnt and blown out.

    Lancia famously gritted an entire snow and ice course to favour their 2WD Stratos/037 can’t recall which.

    In F1 there’s been cases of two brake pedals, so you can brake front or rear independently.

      1 month ago
  • This one is a classic in the WRC story, but Lancia beats Toyota by a mile for cheating, specially when they were pitying the 037 against the Quattro, a surprising strategy none the less.

      1 month ago
    • Except Lancia wasn't cheating. They were just a professional team which knew every trick in the book, unlike Audi which was "unorganised" to put it nicely. I suspect you've seen the Grand Tour ficional piece on the season?

        1 month ago
  • Work of art, just ask Lancia

      1 month ago
  • I'm pretty sure a lot of people know about this, even more after that coin McRae top gear episode

      29 days ago
  • What do you think about Toyota's "master stroke"? Let me know here in the comments!

      1 month ago