Friday, November 6, 2009

Opinion: Who Do I Cheer For Now

As a young boy, like so many other young boys, I dreamt that one day I would own an exotic mid-engine sports car. However, while the visions of Lamborghini Countaches, Ferrari 308’s, Lotus Esprites and Porsche 959’s danced through the heads of most kids, my dream was to one day own a Toyota MR2. Yes, a little unusual maybe, but should not come as a surprise as Toyota was one of the most exciting car companies at that time. During the late 80’s, the MR2 was only one of several cars that stirred the souls of driving enthusiasts the world over. The iconic Corolla GTS, which is every bit as popular today than it, was when it showed up in show rooms for the first time. The rally bred Celica GT4 Turbo AWD that was the Subaru STi of its day. Then there was the company’s performance flagship, the Supra Turbo, Toyota’s answer to the Skyline GTR with an equally potent 3.0L Straight-six turbo. Then finally the nimble little MR2, to date still one of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven.


The excitement surrounding Toyota wasn’t just focused on the cars they sold, they were also a force to be reckoned with in the motorsports world. Toyota dominated just about every form of motorsports they touched. From the horrifically over powered Group C and IMSA Sports Cars, to Ivan “Ironman” Stewart thundering through the deserts of Baja, to the ultra competitive world of Touring Car racing, the screaming CHAMP cars, the mighty Supra warhorse battling 11 years strong in the Super GT series and finally the elegant GT-One that ripped through the air down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. When it comes to racing Toyota has always been feared and respected.


However, the one sport that turned the Toyota name into a legend was rallying. Here they proved to be constant contenders in three different vehicles over three decades starting with the Group 2 Corolla’s in the 70’s. Then came the lethal Group B Twin Cam Celica, giving way to one of the most iconic rally cars of all time, the Group A Celica GT4. And even when the Celica was getting old, the Corolla WRC stepped up to become one of the greatest rally cars of all time.


That’s damn right impressive for one carmaker, and thus the excitement surrounding Toyota lured me in and made me a fan. It is an excitement that made me dream of one day owning an MR2, rather than a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche. And since the MR2 is not a high priced exotic, my dream became reality sooner than most, as I was the proud owner of my life long dream car at the age of 17. My love for that car was unmatched, as Sunday drives where now taken on a daily basis. A year later, Toyota’s enormous motorsports legacy led me to cage the little MR2 and go racing myself, competing in local rallies, then moving on to a Corolla GTS to compete at a higher level.


The Toyota heyday was here and strong, alas it would not last long. Toyota’s feared fleet of exciting performance driven vehicles began to fade. First the Corolla GTS, then the MR2, then the GT4 soon followed by the Supra and finally the entire Celica line itself was cut soon after the millennium. The vacuum left was filled with mass produced cars built for the masses. Cars void of any soul or character, they were designed not to stick out in a crowd, but to appeal to the mass public as a whole. Its as though the ambitious and innovative designers and engineers of the 70’s and 80’s had their leashes tightened as the bean counters took control in the corporate greed to sell sell sell, instead of supplying car loving drivers with proper equipment for a culture they love so much.


Fair enough, things change with times, but Toyota didn’t stop there. No, after stealing away our cars of pleasure, they then pulled a 180, declaring that they wanted to be looked at through the eyes of North Americans and thought of as a domestic carmaker. As a dedicated Toyota fan I had firmly planted my loyalties to the import side of the foreign vs. domestic brand wars. This would be Toyota’s first knife in the back. Then, to back up this claim, they entered NASCAR, a sport worshiped by the evil domestic lovers, known for being the domain for American Iron only. Yet Toyota stepped back thirty years in technological development to fight for the enemy in the roundy round championships. Knife number two.


In the late 90’s the Corolla and GT-One were the class of their particular fields when Toyota took certain success, and sacrificed it to jump into the horrifically expensive, nearly unwinnable series dominated by teams that have been winning for decades. It was a huge risk, but now F1 was the only form of motorsports left that I could cheer for Toyota. Despite Toyota turning their back on people like me, I still remained loyal, always watching a cheering the red and white cars for every fought after position. Despite year after year of constant disappointments I keep cheering for the company that hates me. Like a beaten dog, I keep returning to my master. And then the unthinkable happened. Late last week, word came that Toyota was leaving F1. Who do I cheer for now?


Like that beaten dog, I still have hope for Toyota. Talk of re-entering the WRC or the Le Mans Series have begun to resurface, but so far its only talk. But still I hope that Toyota will give me something to cheer for. As for my dream car today. Do I now want a Ferrari 458, a Porsche GT2, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Lotus Evora, an Audi R8, a Koenigsegg CCX, or an Ascari KZ1? No, I want a white, 1989 Supercharged Toyota MR2 with T-Tops.  

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