As endurance sports car racing rose in popularity through the 1980s, Toyota focused its attention on the Group C category, where the emphasis of matching high performance with fuel efficiency had attracted support from a number of other prestigious manufacturers.
In the early years of its involvement in the series, cars were developed by teams such as TOM’S and Dome, powered by evolutions of the Celica Turbo road car engine and, from 1988, a purpose-designed V8.
In 1990, the TOM’S-Toyota team of Masanori Sekiya, Hitoshi Ogawa and Geoff Lees claimed sixth place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the teamâs best result in the event up to that date. However, plans were already under way to create some of the most spectacular machines ever to race at Le Mans.
From 1991, the FIA Group C category opened up the competition to high-tech sports cars with Formula 1-style 3.5-litre V10 engines. The Toyota TS010 was designed by the famed Tony Southgate to take full advantage of the new rules, its engine producing around 600bhp in Le Mans trim and 700bhp for sprint events. The car made its debut at Autopolis in the final Sport Car World Championship race of 1991, prior to entering a full season in 1992, winning the opening race at Monza.
Even though the TS010 was destined never to claim its much-sought victory at Le Mans, it was without doubt one of the fastest cars to take to the track, setting lap records in both 1992 and 1993. In 1992 the car of Pierre-Henri Raphanel/Kenny Acheson/Masanori Sekiya finished second, giving Sekiya the honour of being the first Japanese driver to stand on the Le Mans podium. Its development also provided Toyota with design and technical experience that would be invaluable in its progress towards entering Formula 1.