The Toyota Celica derives its name from the Spanish word for heavenly which would sound like a misnomer if you’ve ever seen this monster tear up the dirt track. Its success in WRC earned it the nickname “The King of Africa” until Toyota Team Europe team was caught cheating in a way so genius you can’t help but be impressed.
Toyota Team Europe
Acclaimed racing driver Ove Anderson competed a Celica in the RAC rally of 1972 and came 9th in its first outing, beating all the other Japanese teams. This laid the foundations for Toyota Team Europe and sparked the beginnings for Toyotas prowess in the world of rally. However, it wasn’t until 1993, when Toyota bought the team, that things started to get spicy.
After Group B rally was banned due to the high number of deaths and injuries, it was replaced with the more stringent Group A. In an effort to reduce the chances of death, Group A introduced a rule that mandated turbo engine cars to have a specific restrictor plate installed. If you’re not familiar with the device – its purpose is to restrict the amount of forced air entering the combustion chamber to limit power output. All cars were to be tightly scrutineered with very frequent inspections by the FIA.
In 1992 through to 1994, Toyota was dominating Group A with three consecutive championship wins with the Celica GT4 (which was scrutineered and deemed legal by scrutineers) with drivers Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol (in that order) behind the wheel. If you’ve read our previous article on Subaru Vs. Mitsubishi you’ll know that the competition was quickly reaching fever-pitch highs between the Japanese teams in the ’90s.
Enter Restrictor plate-gate
1995 Group A was going just as planned for Toyota with win after win. Between each race, every car was thoroughly inspected to make sure they were legal – which the Celica GT4 was passing with flying colours until the Spanish rally in Catalunya. This was the only event standing between Toyota Team Europe and its fourth consecutive championship victory.
When it came time for a routine restrictor plate removal and inspection, one eagle-eyed scrutineer spotted a hairline fracture so discrete that they had to have been looking for it to notice. The restrictor plate itself was completely legal and up to spec. However, once the restrictor plate was installed and tightened into place, a set of hidden elastic washers would compress to open a 0.5cm bypass between the restrictor plate and the turbo intake. Although this seems like a meagrely sized bypass, it was capable of drawing a substantial amount of compressed air that granted the Celica an additional 50HP over a completely legal setup.
The bitter-sweet consequences
Scrutineers deemed it illegal and stuck by their words even when Toyota suited up, resulting in the team being stripped of their points, a 12-month band and expulsion of the 1995 championship. If this had not happened, then we wouldn’t have seen the iconic Colin McRae victory in a Subaru that sparked a whole other generation of competition. The FIA president, Max Mosley, praised Toyota, saying: “It’s the most ingenious thing I have seen in 30 years of motorsport.”
What is even more impressive is that Toyota had so far gotten away with the cheat for most of the season even with the notoriously hard-to-get-by scrutineers checking so thoroughly.