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.
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.
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."
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.
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.