What Is Toyota Gazoo Racing? The Performance Brand Explained

Seemingly overnight, Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) — Toyota's dedicated motorsport and performance brand — has taken the world by storm after years of remaining in the Japanese domestic market. Gazoo Racing was founded in 2007 by Hiromu Naruse with then-VP of Toyota Akio Toyoda, and almost immediately, the two set their sights on the Nürburgring 24 Hours as a way to build better road cars, according to TGR

Beginning life as an amateur racing project, Gazoo Racing — then known as Team Gazoo — would build and race used Toyota Altezzas before receiving the green light to officially join Toyota as its in-house performance brand in 2009. Since then, Toyota and Gazoo Racing have upheld the "roads build people, and people build cars" mantra by introducing some of the most exciting Toyota production cars in decades. From its start as an amateur grassroots operation to becoming the performance brand for the most popular production vehicle in the world, this is what Gazoo racing is all about.

What is Gazoo Racing?

Gazoo Racing began as the passion project for motorsport enthusiast and heir to the Toyota throne, Akio Toyoda. Even as the grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda, he would not be afforded any privilege to use the Toyota moniker as his team was "similar in level to a bunch of enthusiasts," according to team history. This essentially meant that Naruse and Toyoda started as a customer racing team since they were not technically backed by the brand itself.

As stated in an interview with Automotive News, Toyoda and his driving mentor also adopted aliases when they publicly announced their intention to race in order to remain "brand-neutral." After all, Akio's last name is Toyoda. With little access to the company and an even smaller budget, Team Gazoo would race the discontinued Toyota Altezza, also known as the Lexus IS300 to all the North Americans reading this (via Toyota Gazoo Racing).

With a ragtag group of Toyota employees, Naruse and Toyoda would enter their amateur racing project in one of the most grueling races known to man: the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Known as the "sacred place for new car development" to the GR team, Team Gazoo understood that in order to build better cars, the engineers and mechanics had to understand what it meant to push a car to the absolute limit. The team's success at the event gave Toyoda the confidence to expand upon the subsidiary in 2009 after being promoted to president of Toyota, allowing TGR to assist in the development of cars such as Lexus LFA and Toyota GT86.

What does Gazoo mean, anyway?

When you first hear the word "Gazoo," you might immediately think of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons. But make no mistake, there's a specific reason Toyota chose to use "Gazoo" in its motorsport branding.

In an interview between Autocar's Matt Burt and Toyota Motorsport boss Koei Saga, Burt asked about the origin of the Gazoo namesake. Saga explained that it's derived from the Japanese word "Gazō," meaning "picture" or "image." He went on to elaborate: "Almost 20 years ago our president wanted to change the structure of our company and he introduced what at the time was a very new online system using images of cars for the reselling of used cars. They called this internet site gazoo.com, using the English spelling of the word."

How it's defined by the motorsports team is another story. Saga continued to explain that Toyota's engineers have a picture in mind of "a lot of garages filled with individual and unique cars" which Burt explains directly correlates to the ethos of the original website. Saga went on to elaborate "so we combined those two images" and expanded further to say, "and the ultimate goal of the various garages, each with a different focus, is to create better cars." If Gazoo's immediate success across a range of motorsports is any indication, then its focus on building better and different cars has certainly been achieved.

What is Gazoo Racing's motorsport history?

Although Gazoo Racing's list of production cars has grown, its dedication to professional motorsport has not waned. Competing across seven different racing categories, Gazoo Racing has become one of the most successful motorsport teams in the last decade. The WRC dedicated team made its debut in 2017 with almost immediate success. Developed under the guidance of legendary rally driver Tommi Mäkinen, Toyota and the Yaris WRC won the Constructors' Cup in 2018 and 2021. In 2016, Gazoo Racing also became the manufacturer for Toyota's WRC Challenge Program, which "aims to discover new young Japanese drivers to become top level drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship," according to the rally team's history.

Debuting a year prior to the WRC team was the World Endurance Championship (WEC) dedicated team. Bearing the Gazoo Racing moniker for the first time, the newly developed TS050 Hybrid prototype only furthered the domination set in place by the WRC team with an impressive streak of wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking home first place in 2018, 2019, and 2020. That winning tradition was continued by the GR010 Hybrid, which debuted to a 1-2 finish in 2021. In 2012, Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa was launched to participate in the long-running Dakar Rally. In addition, TGR has also introduced an e-Motorsports team, which has competed in the Gran Turismo World Series Manufacturers' Cup since 2019. 

What are Gazoo Racing's current production models?

As mentioned previously, GR's debut in the production vehicle market coincided with the promotion of Akio Toyoda. Since then, Gazoo Racing has developed nearly 40 different bespoke vehicles under the GR, GR Sport, or GRMN monikers. With a majority of the variations limited to Japan, Europe, and Asia, car enthusiasts of North America had to sit and stare across the pond as the rest of the world got to enjoy the best of Toyota performance models since the discontinuation of the SW20 MR2 and A80 Supra.

However, when Toyota announced the return of the Supra marque, the rest of the world could rejoice as TGR assured everyone that some form of the GR Supra would be available in their respective countries. Since then, Toyota has been arguably the best performance brand in the automotive world, introducing the instant-classic GR Yaris, based upon the WRC winning car, and the GR Corolla — sure to be the revival the Corolla has needed since the AE86 was gracing the backroads of Japan.