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Imagine clocking out of work, then meeting up with your coworkers to take a car to an offroad RallyCross racing event. You all take turns blasting around a dirt or snow-covered obstacle course in a specially prepared AWD car. Now, imagine that said car is a development Cadillac or Lexus, because you all work for GM or Toyota. Guess what: both of these manufacturer RallyCross clubs actually exist. At first glance, these programs seem to have more in common with company bowling leagues than official manufacturer-sponsored race teams. But these automakers are happy to sponsor teams of engineers off-roading in development vehicles because these programs may make your next Toyota or Cadillac faster.

What is RallyCross?

RallyCross is an event hosted by the sports car club of America (SCCA) in which competitors take turns racing through a dirt or snow-covered obstacle course. Because there’s only one vehicle on the course at a time, entrants range from fully modified rally cars, to street legal vehicles.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s manufacturer rally team | Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

To understand the SCCA’s popular RallyCross events, you first need to understand AutoCross. Local SCCA clubs simply set up road courses in private, closed parking lots using orange cones. Then competitors race through the course. AutoCross speeds are relatively low, but improving your time requires a great deal of technical skill.

Some AutoCross competitors run their daily driver, while others enter specially prepared cars on racing slicks. All times are ranked according to vehicle class, and your class depends on how much you’ve modified your vehicle. Overall, it is a very popular form of motorsports with a very low barrier of entry.

RallyCross is very similar, although it requires a vehicle capable of navigating a lower traction event. Therefore, some of the quickest cars are set up for true rally racing. But others are nearly stock AWDs.

Toyota and General Motors have RallyCross teams

Many automakers sponsor motorsports teams that compete at the highest level. These teams advertise how quick and durable the manufacturer’s production chassis is, on a global stage. In return, the team gets sponsorship money. Examples include Toyota’s Next-Gen NASCAR car or Ford’s new Formula 1 engines.

AutoCross and RallyCross are regional events and not somewhere you’ll see officially sponsored manufacturer teams. But you may still see manufacturer-development vehicles. This is because clubs of employees from both Toyota and General Motors have begun signing out “M Plate” development cars and ripping them around RallyCross courses. Pretty cool, right?

Toyota has an R&D Motorsports facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Many of these engineers are passionate about racing and rallying. So it’s no surprise that you can often spot them attending RallyCross events hosted by the SCCA’s Great Lakes Division. What M Plate car do they roll up in? Usually, a Lexus RC350.

Not to be outdone, General Motors has an employee Off Road Driving Team (ORDT) with an enthusiastic RallyCross faction. Over 300 employees are passionate about attending RallyCross events. Their ride? A Cadillac CT4-V with a 2.7-liter turbocharged engine and 10-speed automatic. It’s also a development car, so don’t bother trying to buy one at your local dealership.

Motorsports experience is good for engineering

Even though these RallyCross clubs are far from professional race teams, the manufacturers fully endorse–and even help out–these employee organizations. For its part, Toyota happily offers development vehicles, spare parts, fuel, and even a small yearly budget. But when the club members spend time modifying, prepping, and racing the Lexus RC350, it’s off the clock.

Kyle Steinkamp is the leader of Toyota R&D Motorsport’s racing squad. He revealed that his team “pitched the idea to management as a way to create employee engagement and promote teamwork across all areas of the company, as well as a way to create good technical content and learning opportunities.”

General Motors tasks a similar stance and is happy to lend employees’ ORDT team cars such as the development Cadillac CT4-V.

ORDT’s vehicle lead, Kevan Bates specified, “This is an extracurricular activity outside of our day jobs … and this doesn’t really involve any official product development of any sort…We’re just out there learning and having some fun.”

Next, learn why manufacturers are recommitting to motorsports or see SCCA’s RallyCross program for yourself in the video below: