The Toyota Motor Corp. group is staging rally races for beginners across the nation in an effort to create more fans and build up local economies.

Toyota Technocraft Co., a group firm mainly engaged in vehicle maintenance, has held three rounds this year of the Toyota Racing Development Rally Challenge in Nagano and Gunma prefectures, and plans to hold two more in Toyama and Aichi.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who often races in Japan and overseas, has driven in all three rounds of the series under the nickname “Morizo.”

The cars being used in the beginners’ rallies are of course Toyota cars, such as the 86 coupe launched last year.

The third round, held July 27 and 28 in Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture, along with the fifth round of the Japanese Rally Championship, drew about 26,000 spectators, up 6,000 from last year for just the championship, according to the Shibukawa Municipal Government.

Haruo Takakuwa, chairman of the event’s organizing committee, said the benefits of being supported by Toyota and its president have been enormous.

“It was surprising when we saw that the starting point for the beginners’ rally was even more crowded than for the Japanese Rally Championship,” he said.

Shibukawa Mayor Sadaji Akutsu was also excited.

“Young company presidents from our city were certainly stimulated to a great extent by the Toyota president’s appearance and his driving on his own,” Akutsu said.

At Shibukawa, fans flocked to see Toyoda and many asked to be photographed with him.

In rallies, cars race on public roads to reach a preset destination rather than drive around in circles, and spectators can view the cars as they whiz by at various stages of the course.

The fourth round will be held Sunday in Toyama Prefecture and the fifth on Oct. 27 in Aichi.

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