The Baja 1000 on 15–20 November will see an all-Japanese team try to tame the desert of Baja California as Team JAOS makes their SCORE International début. The team will field a new Lexus LX600 for Tomonori Noto in the Stock Full class, and the vehicle was revealed in early July before shakedowns formally began a month later.
Team JAOS (“Japan Australia Offroad Service”) was founded in 2015 to celebrate the thirty-year anniversary of their namesake and parent company, an SUV parts producer. The operation began competing in the Asia Cross Country Rally that year with Ikuo Hanawa driving a Toyota FJ Cruiser before Noto, a mechanic for JAOS, took over as permanent driver beginning 2016. Hanawa and Noto ran the 2015 Baja 1000 together, racing a Nissan HBR-6 in Class 7 but failing to finish.
Besides a new driver in 2016, the team switched to the Toyota Hilux, which was imported from Thailand (where the AXCR is held) as the Japanese market would not receive it until 2017. KYB Corporation engineer Kazuhiro Tanaka became Noto’s co-driver in 2017. Two years later, the duo won the AXCR’s T1G class.
“The AXCR is a cross-country rally, so there were daily breaks. On the other hand, the Baja 1000 is an off-road race, so once it starts, it is non-stop until the finish with refuelling, tyre changing, and repair work for damaged parts,” Noto told Motor-Fan.jp in late July. “Therefore, if you have big trouble, you will not be able to recover within the time limit, and it is a tough competition that you will retire at that point. The driving stage is also very different: the AXCR is mainly muddy terrain and jungle, but the Baja 100 is mainly in rocky areas and deserts, so the way of running and building the vehicle are completely different.”
JAOS allied with Toyo Tire Corporation in 2020, and Noto was named Toyo’s “Open Country” off-road tyre brand ambassador a year later. When COVID-19 resulted in the AXCR’s cancellation, the team continued developing their programme domestically before heading to North America to compete in Best in the Desert‘s Vegas to Reno in 2021, where they fielded a Polaris UTV for Noto. However, he retired from the race while fellow Japanese driver Akira Miura won his class. Noto returns to the Vegas to Reno next week in the UTV Turbo Pro category.
In May, JAOS announced their Baja 1000 ambitions with the LX600. The LX series of SUVs has enjoyed success at the 1000 over the years as Joe Bacal and his LX570 won the Stock Full class in 2010, 2012, and 2013. While Lexus is part of Toyota, the manufacturer switch came to promote JAOS’ new partnership with the luxury brand, which was revealed at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January.
The 2022 Baja 1000 is framed as the first phase in a “three-year plan” for JAOS: the first year will be to observe the team’s performance, the second has a goal of finishing while the third aims for victory. JAOS also nte
“From next year, we plan to roll out suspension and other products in the North American market, and to that end, we are aiming to improve our brand power in order to participate in the Baja 1000,” Noto continued.
For testing at the turn of this month, the SUV was rebuilt after being torn down for refurbishment following the Gunma Parts Show three weeks prior. Despite being a newly assembled vehicle, JAOS stated it performed without major issue.
“This is a course I have driven in the Asia Cross Country Rally Hilux,” Noto began, “but so far the drive feel of the LX600, which is completely different from the body to the suspension, is excellent. From here on, we will further refine the details for the main battle at the Baja 1000.”