Up Close with Morizo at Rally Hokkaido--Thoughts on the Century and a Celica Revival


On the final day of Toyota Times' live coverage of Rally Hokkaido, Morizo--aka Chairman Akio Toyoda--visited the studio for an on-air interview with Hitoshi Hongo, former editor-in-chief of Best Car magazine.

Rally Hokkaido, round seven of the All Japan Rally Championship, featured a last-minute entry and dominant performance by TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala.

For his part, Morizo revved up the crowd with demo runs and flag-waving duties at the starting line. His impressive list of roles even extended to interviewing and interpreting for Latvala on the Toyota Times live broadcast after his drive.

Near the end of our live stream on September 10, the event’s final day, Morizo appeared in the studio. For viewers, a particular highlight of his roughly 75 minutes on air was a Q&A session with Hitoshi Hongo, former editor-in-chief of Best Car magazine. Their conversation went beyond rally to topics such as the Century and Celica, delving ever deeper than the usual press conference responses.

In this article, we look at the Morizo interview in a way only possible for Toyota Times.

Rally commentary with a driver’s perspective

On the morning of that same day, Morizo had performed a demo run at the former baseball ground being used for the rally’s special stage.

He reflected on driving in muddy conditions following the previous day’s rain, saying, “Rally roads are either tarmac, gravel, or snow, but this was none of the above.”

The demo run also featured Juha Kankkunen, winner of four World Rally Championship (WRC) drivers’ titles.

“I think fans watching the All Japan Rally were able to get a taste of the world stage,” said Morizo, recapping the event. “I’m sure that seeing the difference between local and world-class driving will inspire more young people to aim for the top. In that sense, I think having Latvala and his peers take part has proved an even greater success than expected.”

Three days earlier, footage of Morizo driving a Honda caused a stir on Toyota’s official X account (formerly Twitter). “That really went viral,” he said of the video. “It was just a rental car. I put a Morizo sticker on it. I believe we got proper permission. So those of you renting a Honda in the future, keep an eye out (laughs).”

When the special stage got underway, Morizo provided driver’s perspective insights on each run. As he was explaining Latvala’s pre-run routine of clapping his hands to boost focus, right on cue, the in-car camera showed just that, eliciting cheers from the studio.

[Q1] What’s the outlook for Subaru’s WRC return?

Then, it was time for some questions from Hongo, who has conducted his fair share of Morizo interviews.

Following a viewer request sent in via the chat, he asked, “There is talk of Subaru’s possible return (to the WRC)—could you tell us what’s going, whether you’ve spoken with the president of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) or not?”

Morizo admitted that he had invited Subaru representatives to view the rally and arranged a visit to Rally Japan in November. He has also shared his opinion about bringing in more teams with the FIA president.


The reality is that the WRC’s top category, Rally1, currently has just three teams. Even if each of them fields three cars, that makes only nine spots for top drivers and co-drivers. To make rally a sustainable and ongoing sport, I think we need a few more teams competing at the top level.

Toyota also returned to the rally world (in 2017) after a 17-year hiatus. Thanks to the many people who still remembered those Celicas and Corollas from 17 years earlier, we enjoyed a rather warm welcome when we made our comeback.

Subaru and Mitsubishi both still have many fans, and those memories are still alive. That’s why there’s this feeling that they might just be taking a little break.

The decision to go for it or not ultimately rests with Subaru. For our part, we welcome having more competitors. Above all, I think that’s important for the fans and developing talent, and in the sense of having extra seats for anyone hoping to be a part of rally someday. I will continue to invite them.

[Q2] The advantages of ROOKIE Racing

For this live stream, the studio was set up inside a transporter from ROOKIE Racing, meaning it belonged to Morizo. We took the chance to ask him again about the team’s backstory.


ROOKIE Racing is a racing team that I personally own. It falls within the privateer category and runs mostly on borrowed funds.

When it comes to mixing business with personal affairs, most people imagine that someone in my position would use company assets, but I guess Toyota is tight-fisted (laughs). Since they won’t provide (vehicles), I said alright, let’s use mine. That’s what mixing business with pleasure looks like at Toyota, all backwards.

Originally, I created GAZOO Racing to lead the charge in reforming Toyota. But as things grow bigger and bigger, you get more people on the admin side. What starts out from a love of cars ends up like any other large corporation. I realized there were things we couldn’t do at GAZOO Racing, which is why I set up ROOKIE Racing.

As privateers, there are certain things we can do that a Toyota factory team could not. The amount of information coming through to Morizo has certainly changed since starting ROOKIE Racing. People might not tell the head of a factory team, but as a privateer, I am taking on the financial burden and going through the same hardships. Being a privateer put me in a position where I can relate.

[Q3] Thoughts on the new Century

Morizo was also deeply involved in the new Century, unveiled on September 6. Hongo asked for his thoughts on the car.


For me, the Century is the car of the Honorary Chairman (the late Shoichiro Toyoda). The car you drive when you’re the head of Toyota.

In the past, Toyota’s executive parking area was nothing but Centuries. It looks rather different now, and I think I might have been a bad influence. When I got to that position, I opted for another car. On the other hand, that helped the Alphard gain a reputation as a chauffeur-driven vehicle.

The Century hasn’t had many chances for a full model change. When I was approached about the next redesign, I said, “Since you’re asking me, why not make the kind of Century I would like to see?” And that’s how it came to be.

This is the top premium, chauffeur-driven car not just within Toyota but in Japan. I think this new model will also suit younger people and those who previously felt that a Century was not for them.

My role is that of a master passenger, while the drivers I rely on every day serve as master drivers. We asked them what would make their driving more comfortable for the passengers in the back seat.

Morizo also revealed that, when in Aichi Prefecture, he drives the Century inherited from the late Honorary Chairman and uses a white Century when traveling to motorsport venues. He put the call out ahead of November’s Rally Japan, saying, “I’ll be there waiting—if you see a white Century, that’s me.”