Legend in its own right: The Toyota Eagle GTP MkIII

The Toyota Eagle GTP MkIII Chassis WFO-91-002 makes its way around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the 2014 Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

Wouter Melissen

Between June of 1992 and October of 1993, the Toyota Eagle GTP MkIII won every IMSA race it was entered in. Among these 17 consecutive victories were the 1993 Daytona 24 Hours and a repeat win at the Sebring 12 Hours. This unprecedented dominance was the culmination of a decade-long partnership between Dan Gurney’s All American Racers (AAR) and Japanese manufacturer Toyota that had started with a GTU-specification Celica in 1983. Along the way, AAR also fielded a GTO championship winning Celica before stepping up to GTP at the start of the 1989 season.

AAR first built a GTP car in 1987, mainly for testing purposes, but its career was drastically cut short after a heavy accident in testing that left driver Dennis Aase injured. Now with full backing and funding of Toyota, a whole new car was readied for the 1989 season. Known as the HF89, in reference to designers Ron Hopkins and Hiro Fujimori, it was raced with considerable success for the better part of three seasons. While it scored several victories, the HF89 and subsequent HF90 struggled both with cooling issues and a lack of front downforce.

With the flaws of the HF89/90 in mind, AAR set about creating a third GTP design virtually from scratch. Known internally as the WFO-91, which was short for engineer John Ward (who had already worked at AAR before), aerodynamicist Fujimori and others, who together created the car that would become known as the Toyota Eagle GTP MkIII. Ward had returned to AAR specifically to design the new GTP racer and the design work had started as early as 1989 when the HF89 or MkII was not even a year old.

Ward discarded the existing all-aluminum chassis in favor of what would be the team’s first carbon-fiber monocoque. Although today a leader in carbon-fiber manufacturing, AAR did not have an Autoclave available yet at the time. Instead, the carbon-fiber components were vacuum-sealed and then cured in an oven that used little torpedo heaters. Bolted directly to the carbon-fiber tub was the double-wishbone front suspension, which used push-rods to actuate the in-board mounted dampers. Aft of the rear bulkhead a steel tubular subframe was used to house the engine, gearbox and double-wishbone/push-rod suspension.

Key to the success of the MkIII was the sophisticated aerodynamics developed by Fujimori with Dan Gurney himself also taking a very hands-on approach. The cooling issues were cured by a prominent air-intake in the nose, which fed the side-mounted radiators through large ducts. The intake also doubled as a front wing. The air that passed over the wing was channeled into the wheel wells where the spinning wheels further accelerated the airflow, increasing the effectiveness of the wing. While the new front wing cured the front-end issues, a vast majority of the actual downforce was still created by massive underbody ground-effect tunnels.

Discovering the sole surviving Ligier JS1

In addition to the program’s funding, Toyota also supplied the MkIII’s four-cylinder engine. This was a further development of the production-derived unit also found in the earlier GTP cars and also the GTO Celica. Displacing just over 2.1 liters, it featured twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Thanks to a sizeable turbocharger, it produced in excess in 750 horsepower. Reportedly, it was so powerful that Toyota Racing Development (TRD) destroyed four dynamometers testing and preparing the 3S-GTM engines. Responsible for transferring all this power to the rear wheels was a March-sourced five-speed gearbox.

Completed in the summer of 1991, the all-new Toyota Eagle tipped the scales at the 875 kg minimum weight stipulated by the regulations. The highly efficient machine produced in excess of 3,000 kg of downforce at speeds of over 300 kph. Quick straight out of the box, Juan Manuel Fangio II looked set to claim a debut victory at Laguna Seca in July of 1991 only to be caught out by a mistimed pit stop. He did win a week later at Portland and again at the Del Mar season finale. Here the first Mk III was joined by a second example, piloted by Rocky Moran. He did not make it to the finish after a hefty shunt.

For the 1992 season, Fangio was once again the team-leader in the 99 car, while P.J. Jones was hired to drive the 98 Toyota Eagle. They were joined by experienced hands in the long distance races. While the Mk III qualified on pole for the season opening Daytona 24 Hours, a delayed fourth was the best they could manage in the race. There were no such issues at the Sebring 12 Hours where Fangio scored an outright victory together with Andy Wallace. Racing against factory Nissans and Jaguars, the Toyota Eagle absolutely dominated, scoring seven wins in the next 11 rounds of the IMSA Championship. Fangio and the team were crowned champions.

To rein in the Toyota Eagle, further restrictions came into effect at the start of the 1993 season, which included a higher weight, a tighter restrictor and the mandatory use of steel brakes instead of the carbon ceramic discs raced the previous two seasons. The changes had little effect, as the Toyota Eagle GTP Mk III won every race it was entered in (for reasons unknown the team sat out the Road America round). Among these victories were outright wins at Daytona and Sebring. Naturally, both Fangio and the team once again ended the year as champions.

An altogether more substantial rule change rendered the Toyota Eagle and it stillborn successor obsolete at the end of the 1993 season. It remains as one of the most successful competition cars of all time, winning 21 races in just 28 starts, including 10 one-two victories. Such was the performance of the Toyota Eagle that many of the car’s track records still stand to this day, including at the Daytona International Speedway.

Click HERE for a full gallery of the Toyota Eagle GTP Mk III and visit Ultimatecarpage.com to discover more impressive historic racecars.