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My Visit to Cologne

By Hellmuth Sole (SOLE2000)
January 9 2006

In 2003, I was at a meeting in TMME's (Toyota Motor Marketing Europe) head office in Brussels, Belgium. Working for Toyota directly, we were having a meeting of managers in the sales training area around the world (in my case I oversee training for the Latin American and Caribbean region).

 Being a big Formula 1 fan that I am, and finding out during my trip that the drive from Brussels to Belgium is about 5 hours away, I bugged enough people (and the right ones) to get the opportunity to get a loaner car, a map, and the opportunity to enter the factory the day after my meeting, and have the PR staff waiting for me.  Located at 1 Toyota Allee, the place is "relatively" easy to get to, just taking a single highway from Brussels all the way to Cologne.

The factory itself outside simply looks like a big brick building, really not "factory-like" but more administrative.  Upon entering, the images were contrasting.  Most of the building's halls were well-lit, impeccably clean (I didn't see a single thing out of place or on the floor in the entire facility) and almost looked like a hospital, both because of the calm as well as the order they kept.  Toyota has a policy where they will allow you to see different parts of the factory depending on your clearance level (if you're from a sponsor, if you work for a Toyota affiliate, or what level you work for directly within Toyota).  The weekend I visited (it was during the Malasian GP weekend of 2003) movement was slow (about 100 of the factory's 600 employees were out) but there was still alot being done.  I had the opportunity to visit most of the sections within the factory, with the exception of where they develop and assemble the gear boxes.

My first impression was actually quite strange, since I'm used to seeing F1 so hectic, I imagined people running around everywhere, but they just walked from place to place.  I also expected to see just about everyone wearing overalls or engineers robes (I mean, this is a factory) but they were all well dressed in Kakhis and long sleeved shirts and sweaters.  Even the mechanics working on the engine assemblys were wearing wool vests over their long sleeved shirts.

The most impressive areas without a doubt were the wind tunnel and the large dyno room.  The wind tunnel is a tall cylinder, which basically winds down to ground level from a few stories up and begins to get smaller, until you reach the endless belt where the scaled down F1 vehicle is next to a huge control room.  The toughest part of actually designing the wind tunnel I was told was not allowing turbulence to be made where tunnel itself ended and the belt began.
The main dyno room actually has a full rear transaxle and gearbox, and is able to simulate 100% the driving conditions (humidity, temperature, engine stress, etc) which is given to them through the telemetry at a track.  That day, they were prepping an engine to reproduce a failure they had experienced a few weeks earlier... impressive to learn that they were actually going to purposely destroy a $1,000,000 engine...  Of course, when you see the reliability of the engines now, you understand why this was necessary.  Until that time I hadn't seen an F1 race, so I didn't understand why the room was heavily soundproofed and why noone could be in the room with the engine running.  However after going to my first race a few months later in Barcelona and having to shove ear plugs in after 20 laps of the race, I immediately knew why... a guy wouldn't have lasted more than 5 minutes in their without his ears bleeding.
One of the most surprising parts was actually the way the TF103's exhaust system was made.  The machine used to bend the pipes into their elaborate shapes was actually quite rustic and old fashioned, but they pointed out that very precise, since a mm of difference in the width of the exhaust could have repercussions on the engines's output.  They actually showed me Oliver Panis's wrecked exhaust from his major crash, without a single rupture, but heavily bent out of shape...  This they proved was that the hand welding they did on the exhaust was much better than the computer controlled one which is customary in most other vehicles.
Just about every component of the vehicle is made at the Cologne factory, so the 600 employees are constantly working.  Mike Gascoyne had recently come on to the team, and he had definitely stirred things up.  Everyone respected him deeply, and were hoping that his knowledge and discipline were going to be key to moving Toyota up the grid.  One of the things which they emphasized most was one of Toyota's core ideals... Kaizen... the Japanese word meaning Continuous Improvement, which is something that has made us into what we are today, and is part of the F1 factory.  Our Kaizen engineers, had actually gone to Cologne to work with the pit crews a few weeks before and for those that didn't notice, Toyota consistenly was placing itself as one of the fastest crews in the pits, thanks to these engineers which actually were working to show each person on the crew how to reduce the amount of movements necessary to do their job in sequence, which shaves off those precious tenths of a second.
In the end, although I didn't get to meet Ove Anderson, nor any of the drivers or team managers, I did get a memorable experience.  At the end, I had the opportunity to see each one of the F1's before the TF103, as well as Ove Anderson's winning rally car from his days in Sweden, and one of Toyota's famed GT cars.  All in all, a memorable and worthwhile experience for a true die-hard Toyota F1 fan.  Hopefully, I'll be back before we take our first championship, which I expect leaves me little time...

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