Toyota is known for indestructible trucks and flawlessly reliable cars. But over the years there have also been hints of driving passion, flickering into brilliant flames throughout the decades.

Recently Toyota has been delivering more and more exciting vehicles to market, investing heavily in motorsport and harnessing those initiatives to build a brand for performance driving enthusiasts.

Where It All Started

The brand’s extensive history in racing goes all the way back to the 1950s. At that time the company's founder called motorsport a "must" in order to help the automaker develop ever better passenger vehicles and catch up with the established players in the industry.

That race track-to-showroom mindset continues to this day; the understanding that from the extreme conditions of motorsport comes the knowledge and technology to build ever-better road cars.

Even now, that push to compete and win at all tiers of motorsport comes from the very top. With Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda getting behind the wheel himself to race in road rallies and on the circuit, taking part in some of the most grueling motorsports events in the world. And the division continues this tradition with the #8 Toyota GR 010-Hybrid Hypercar capturing its 5th successive LeMans win at the 90th 24 Hours of LeMans.

What’s a Gazoo?

Today, Toyota powers forward with a clear overarching direction and strategy with Gazoo Racing leading the charge. In motorsport and in the form of road cars like the GR Supra, GR86 and GR Corolla, Gazoo Racing operates with the ethos of "making ever-better cars."

Gazoo Racing started at the very top of the company: with Akio Toyoda. Toyoda was then a Vice President, but wanted to go racing at the Nurburgring 24-hours - a full day of flat-out racing on one of the most challenging circuits in all of the world. Operating as a group of enthusiasts and using second-hand Toyota Altezza sedans, the team wasn’t permitted to use the Toyota name.

In fact, even Toyoda didn't use his own name. Instead, he appears on the official results sheet as "Morizo."

It's a name Toyoda would use extensively in his motorsports appearances and now has been used for a very unique and extremely focused special edition of the Toyota GR Corolla. Using this pseudonym also shows how dedicated Toyoda is to going fast and improving the company's vehicles.

What did Toyoda take back to the boardroom from the experience? "[Toyota master test driver] Naruse and I said to each other: ‘At Toyota, let us make not only cars that are overtaken by others, but cars that overtake others—and let us one day race in such a car as well!’”

The fledgling team chose the name Gazoo for its efforts, with Gazoo Racing returning to the race every year since. It would take just three years for the team's first class victory, driving a prototype of the LFA.

While unfamiliar in North America, Gazoo is a name that has a history with Toyota in Japan. In 1997, Toyota developed a new system to help sell used vehicles and it was called Gazoo. The name came from the Japanese word 'gazo', meaning 'picture' or 'image,' and focused on the ability to show pictures of cars, which was an innovation at the time.

The word evolved for Toyota engineers, becoming synonymous with 'garage,' as they could see the image of a garage of vehicles in their minds. Gazoo Racing was born.

A Unified Strategy

At the time, Toyota had three separate racing divisions. Toyota Racing, Lexus Racing, and Gazoo Racing, with each name used in different forms of motorsport including Formula 1, the World Endurance Championship, and the Nurburgring 24 Hours. From 2015, all three divisions were combined into one, Gazoo Racing.

Ken Gushi is one of GR's professional drivers. The drifting hot shoe has spent well over a decade making Toyotas go sideways and has been a pioneer in that sport for the last 19 years. Some of that time spent sideways has been for fun, but much of his time spent punishing GR86s and GR Supras is in the name of serious development work.

The committees that developed cars like the GR86 are passionate about producing the ever-better vehicles in Toyota, Gushi says admiringly. "Putting up products that someone can be proud of. That the company can be proud of," he said. "GR cars are designed for people who want to enjoy cars."

According to Toyota’s design principles, learning how to make cars for enthusiasts is a labor of love, yet a long and exhaustive process. Gushi elaborates on this by saying “With the GR brand, they're always learning about how they can improve things. How they can make the cars sporty or more fun to drive." GR does that using its extensive racing background as a foundation for their road cars.

"GR learns a lot of things that go into the brand from racing. Like work on the Le Mans series and its hybrid vehicles," says Gushi. With the teams recent LeMans win as a direct reflection of that and a hopeful sign of things to come.

Does GR learn from drifting? Of course, says Gushi, though we suspect he might have a bit of bias toward the discipline. "They hire us out to go test drive these vehicles and ask for input on how to get these GR cars to perform better. Or how to make them more fun."

What’s Next?

Gushi knows that the future is moving away from pure combustion engines to alternatives like EVs, hybrids and even hydrogen tech. Toyota has a strong background in all of these, and that means Gazoo Racing soon will as well. Beyond the Le Mans-winning hybrids already mentioned, GR has put a hydrogen-powered Corolla through its paces, entered in the Super Taikyu endurance racing series in Japan since last year.

The question now, asks Ken, is "how do we make those vehicles fun to drive?" There are already hybrid sports cars on the road, he points out, including the Lexus LC 500h. He's also quick to mention the World Endurance Championship racers and the GR Prius that competes in the Japanese Super GT Series.

“Those cars, they kick ass," he says, holding nothing back.

For Gushi and Gazoo Racing, the future likely means production cars based on the hybrid technology the company has honed on the racetrack. "That is one thing I am actually looking forward to,” he says, commenting on how Toyota’s performance-focused racers, engineers and executives have the expertise to make electrified vehicles that are ready to embrace the Gazoo Racing name.