Is Rookie Racing mega-factory an ominous sign for its rivals?

When Super Formula and SUPER GT made their annual visits to Fuji Speedway for pre-season testing this March, there was a major new landmark near the circuit entrance.

Is Rookie Racing mega-factory an ominous sign for its rivals?
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Toyota squad Rookie Racing has constructed a vast new factory that began operations earlier this month, after the Okayama SUPER GT test.

Towering above the track around the final sector like an impregnable fortress, it looks more like a facility from which a respectable midfield F1 effort could be run than the humble headquarters of a one-car SUPER GT team.

It’s the latest sign of the Akio Toyoda-owned team’s ambitions, and will no doubt strike fear into the hearts of the likes of Cerumo, SARD and even traditional Toyota powerhouse TOM’S.

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Rookie Racing is heading into its third season of existence and the second as a fully-fledged independent outfit, following a one-year alliance with Cerumo in 2020. Last year, the team surprised everyone by taking victory in the Okayama SUPER GT opener, but that was the high point of an otherwise frustrating season in which TOM’S often had a clear edge.

This winter, the #36 TOM’S machine of Sho Tsuboi and Giuliano Alesi has been on top for three of four official test days, with SARD topping the other. But the #14 Rookie GR Supra of Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita has never been far away, and in any case the team has spent the winter working on its race pace rather than its already-proven one-lap prowess.

“Compared to last year, we have done a lot of good tests,” Oshima told after the second day of testing at Fuji. “We are doing better than last year, so we can be in a good position [for the title]. Our race pace is good. I think the #36 looks very good, but I think we are almost at the same level.” 


So, could this be the year that Rookie Racing takes over as the de facto lead Toyota team in SUPER GT? One thing that will help the squad in that regard is the arrival of long-time TOM’S man Tsutomu Tojo, under whose watch the likes of Andre Lotterer, Kazuki Nakajima and Juichi Wakisaka all enjoyed success.

Tojo will be working alongside Kazuya Abe, who continues as track engineer for the #14 machine after previously taking Oshima and Yamashita to title glory in 2019 when the duo were driving for Team LeMans.

“Tojo-san is now in our team and he knows very well about the race,” said Oshima. “We can learn a lot of tricks from him, some ‘secrets’.”

How much TOM’S will miss Tojo’s experience remains to be seen, although it has promoted the equally-capable Masaki Saeda, previously the race engineer for the #37 machine to a chief engineering role for the 2022 campaign.

Tojo has also been brought in to help Rookie Racing lift its form in Super Formula, with Oshima having languished towards the back of the field both last year and in 2020, replacing Hisashi Matsuda as race engineer.


“Tojo-san has changed the car and I have a much better feeling,” said Oshima. “In the last test [at Fuji] I couldn’t do a fast lap on new tyres because of the red flag, so my time was set using old tyres. And even that time was not too bad. So I think this year we can be competitive.”

Rookie Racing’s cars in both Super Formula and SUPER GT - as well as its Super Taikyu challengers - feature a distinctive new cheque pattern this year, replacing the camouflage motif that used to distinguish the squad’s machines (this was dropped for copyright reasons, although the exact details are unknown).

What ought to concern Rookie Racing’s rivals even more is that the factory that can be seen now is only around half of the facility’s eventual size. Oshima divulged that another section will be built to house some as-yet unannounced special projects, with construction scheduled to be completed next year.

Certainly, a second Super Formula entry becoming a reality seems like a formality, perhaps as early as next year, and you wouldn’t bet against an eventual expansion to a second car in SUPER GT either given the team’s facilities.

It’s always been maintained that Akio Toyoda’s connection to Rookie Racing does not make his outfit a works Toyota team. But the construction of the team’s new factory only adds to the feeling that, sooner or later, it will be the auto giant’s undisputed number one outfit on the domestic scene.

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