No clutch pedal, no gear shifting, but this AT is faster than any manual. Toyota set out to develop a technology that could overturn an established motorsport norm and bring new faces to racing.
“To make motorsports sustainable.” Looking back over the activities of Chairman Akio Toyoda, aka Morizo, one cannot help but sense this powerful motivation at every turn.
On any given day, he may be found revving up the crowd at a grassroots rally event or championing diverse decarbonization options from behind the wheel of a hydrogen-powered car.
While the list of such endeavors is endless, Morizo’s current efforts to advance motorsports are shining the spotlight in one particular direction: a newly developed eight-speed sport automatic transmission, called Direct Automatic Transmission, or DAT.
Morizo drove a GR Yaris equipped with the new technology at Round 5 of the 2023 ENEOS Super Taikyu Series Supported by Bridgestone, held at Mobility Resort Motegi in Motegi, Tochigi Prefecture, on September 2-3. His team successfully completed the five-hour race.
An AT that outpaces manuals
Most cars used in racing have a manual transmission. One reason is that, in the hands of a skilled driver, they can be faster than ATs. The DAT, however, was developed to be faster than manuals.
So, how does it differ from regular automatic transmissions? Driver Hiroaki Ishiura, who also oversees ROOKIE Racing’s #32 Super Taikyu car, explains.
On a racetrack, a regular AT feels slippery (due to the mechanics), giving you little sense of a direct connection (with the gears).
That’s where the D in DAT comes in: Direct. It locks in from the moment you set off, responding linearly to gas pedal input and allowing you to shave time off your laps without any loss.
For example, in an MT car, you usually drop a gear before entering a corner. DAT senses when you’re braking fully and downshifts for you to prepare for the next acceleration. It anticipates the actions ahead, just as we normally do when driving.
A standard AT would head into the corner without changing and only recognize that acceleration is needed when you floor the gas pedal, dropping a gear (known as a kick down). This creates a massive time lag.
A new option for the AT-driving majority
Project General Manager Naohiko Saito served as the GR Yaris’s chief engineer and leads DAT development. He says the aim is to “expand the reach of motorsports.”
Since 2016 (when GR Yaris development began), I have learned a great deal from Morizo and the pro drivers, and have gradually come to understand what makes a fun car.
One day, Morizo remarked that not many people can drive a manual, and said he wanted “to spread the joy of driving.” That’s how we got started working on DAT. We started figuring out the concept in the second half of 2020.
According to National Police Agency statistics, AT-only drivers accounted for 857,000, or over 70%, of the 1,176,000 people who passed the regular vehicle license test in 2022.
Moreover, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association (JADA) notes that 98.6% of new passenger cars sold in Japan in 2019 had automatic transmissions.
How to open the door to motorsports for this vast AT driver majority? It was this question that gave rise to the DAT concept. In 2021, with Vice Chairman Shigeru Hayakawa as the development driver, the technology was thrown into the fray at the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge, a beginner-friendly event.
The following year, DAT appeared in the All Japan Rally Championship in the hands of Tomoyuki Shinkai, a driver with several titles.
This year, the project expanded further to circuit racing, where DAT is being honed in the demanding environment of high speeds, high G-forces, and long distances.