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How Much Has Toyota Contributed To Yamaha’s MotoGP Success?

Popular thinking would have it that Yamaha’s surge to the front of the MotoGP pack was entirely do to the contributions of Valentino Rossi and his crew chief Jeremy Burgess. However, a rider and a crew chief can only do so much, and we find it distinctly possible that some of the momentum for Yamaha’s success may have come from another source: Toyota.

Yamaha and Toyota have a long history of co-operation, with Yamaha engineers having contributed to the design of several Toyota production motors. The earliest known collaboration between the two Japanese companies was the Toyota 2000GT sports car, jointly designed by Yamaha and Toyota engineers in the 1960s. This collaboration has produced engines like the 4AGE motors of the late 1980s and early-mid 1990s (found in some Corollas as well as Toyota Formula Atlantic open-wheel racers), and more recently the 2ZZ-GE found in the Toyota Celica and Lotus Elise. Toyota also owns roughly 4-1/2 percent of Yamaha Motor Company.

Does this co-operation between the two companies extend to Yamaha’s MotoGP effort? How could Toyota contribute to the YZR-M1 project, and why would they want to help Yamaha succeed in MotoGP?

Although Toyota has in the past requested assistance from Yamaha to design light, advanced, high-revving engines, Japan’s largest auto manufacturer now has some very impressive capabilities of its own in that area. More importantly for Yamaha’s MotoGP effort, Toyota is now deeply involved in prototype racing engine development. For proof, just look at Toyota’s Formula 1 effort – the company has definitely dedicated some serious resources to both the human (engineers) and technological (computer design, simulation, analysis, etc.) factors involved in developing a top-level prototype racing engine from the ground up. Since Yamaha has a history of helping Toyota, it seems likely that if Toyota developed the ability to return the favor, they would be ready to do so.

Now, why would Toyota want to help Yamaha succeed in MotoGP? Aside from its minority ownership interest, you can answer that question with one word: Honda. Now, we motorcyclists typically think of Honda as the ‘giant’ in the world of OEMs, but Toyota’s automobile production is larger even than Honda’s, and the two companies have long considered each other rivals. Of course, Toyota doesn’t produce motorcycles, but they do know that Honda’s racing success contributes to the overall ‘brand image’ of both its automobile and motorcycle divisions. Therefore, if Toyota saw an opportunity to help knock Honda down a notch in the world of top-level motorcycle racing, we feel certain they would jump in with both feet.

So, has Toyota contributed to Yamaha’s success in MotoGP over the past few seasons? It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know for sure, but all the evidence leads us to believe that the answer is yes.