Toshihiro Arai is a Japanese veteran rally driver and team owner who is still active in the Japanese rally championship at the age 51. Most recently, he won national rally title in 2018.
Earlier in a career, he recorded 89 starts in the World Rally Championship between 1997 and 2010, winning the Production WRC titles in 2005 and 2007. During his entire career, Arai was driving Subaru rally cars.
Toshi Arai made WRC debut in 1997
Born in December 1966 in Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, Toshi Arai started his rally career in 1987. Ten years later, he made his international debut in the World Rally Championship, participating at 1997 Rally Australia. He was driving Group N-spec Subaru Impreza 555 for Subaru Rally Team Japan, finishing 16th overall and fourth in Group N classification.
In 1998, he expanded his schedule to three WRC events, driving a Subaru Impreza WRX in New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain. Arai's navigator in 1998 was Roger Freeman, who stayed with him until the end of 2000.
Seven WRC starts in 1999, seven more in 2000 WRC season
In 1999, Arai recorded seven starts in the World Rally Championship, the first four in a Subaru Impreza S4 WRC and then three starts with Subaru Impreza WRX N4 car in a Production Class. He scored two PWRC victories, at China Rally and Rally Australia, finishing third in the final PWRC standings.
In 2000, Arai spent the most of the season in a Subaru Impreza S5 WRC, driving that car in six WRC events and one ERC round. His best results were fourth place at Acropolis Rally and victory at Tour de Luxembourg. At Rally Australia, he was second in Production Class in a Subaru Impreza WRX.
Ten starts with Subaru World Rally Team in 2001
In 2001, Toshi Arai was a member of the Subaru World Rally Team, alongside full-time drivers Richard Burns and Petter Solberg. Arai was driving a Subaru Impreza S7 WRC in ten events, finishing best in the fourth place at Cyprus Rally. His navigator in nine rallies was Glenn Macneall and he was replaced by Tony Sircombe in the last round.
Sircombe stayed with Arai in 2002, recording eight starts in the World championship, six of them in PWRC category and two in a World Rally Car. Arai was a PWRC winner at Rally Australia, finishing the season fourth in PWRC points.
PWRC vice-champion for two years in a row
In 2003, Arai was a member of Subaru Production Rally Team, scoring four wins in six PWRC starts and finishing second in the points, losing a title to Martin Rowe.
In 2004, Toshi founded his own team Subaru Team Arai, continuing to race with Subaru Impreza in the Production WRC. He scored no wins, just two podiums, finishing again as a PWRC vice-champion. This time, a champion was Niall McShea.
Production class world champion in 2005
In 2005, Toshi Arai and Tony Sircombe reached the peak in a Production Class of the World Rally Championship, scoring four wins and taking the championship title. They were rally winners in Sweden, Turkey, Japan and Australia. Outside WRC, Arai also participated in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, scoring two wins and finishing second in the points.
In 2006, Arai started a season with a PWRC victory in Mexico. Later in the season, he scored no wins or podium, finishing sixth in the PWRC points. He also joined Subaru World Rally Team in his home event, driving a Subaru Impreza S12 WRC at Rally Japan and taking some points with the sixth place.
One more championship title in 2007
In 2007, Toshi Arai and Tony Sircombe claimed their second PWRC championship title. In six events, they were rally winners at Acropolis Rally and Rally New Zealand.
The next season was disappointing for Arai because he scored just one podium in six PWRC attempts. That year, Glenn Macneall became his navigator again. The results were slightly better in 2009 when Arai and Macneall scored three PWRC podiums to finish fifth in the points.
Last WRC attempt in 2010
Arai was fifth in the PWRC standings again in 2010, sharing a Subaru Impreza STi N15 with Daniel Barritt. They were on podiums two times, at Rally Mexico and Rally de France.
That was the last season for Toshi Arai in the World Rally Championship. He spent the next two seasons in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, driving a Subaru Impreza STi R4. His best results were the seventh place at Cyprus Rally in 2011 and then the third place at Cyprus Rally in 2012.
Seven victories at Rally Hokkaido
Outside IRC, Arai scored two wins at Rally Hokkaido in 2011 and 2012. Previously, he won that event in 2010, 2008, 2006 and 2003. Later in a career, he won one more time at Rally Hokkaido in 2016.
In 2013, Arai joined Stohl Racing to drive a Subaru Impreza STi R4 in four rounds of the European Rally Championship, finishing best in the third place at Sibiu Rally Romania.
Japanese rally champion in 2015 and 2018
Toshi Arai closed his international career at the end of 2013, switching a focus to national rallying from 2014. He won just one rally that year in a Subaru Impreza STi, finishing third in class. Next year, he was a rally winner five times, taking the championship title in the top class JN-6.
In 2016, Arai added three more wins in national rallies to his account and then three more in 2017, finishing third in points in 2016 and second in the points in 2017. In 2018, Arai dominated in the Japanese rally championship, scoring six victories and taking his second championship title. His navigator in both championship-winning seasons was Naoya Tanaka.
Occasional attempts out of rallying
Parallel to his rich rally career, Arai recorded few attempts in other racing disciplines. In 2011, he was driving a Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T in the Japanese round of the World Touring Car Championship at Suzuka Circuit. Among 23 drivers, he was 13th in Race 1 and 15th in Race 2.
In 2016, Arai tried himself in rallycross, joining Subaru Rally Team USA in the season's finale of the Global Rallycross Championship at Port of Los Angeles.
Hiroki Arai is following the footsteps of his father
Toshi's son Hiroki Arai, born in 1993, is following the footsteps of his famous father. He started a career with father's team and made a WRC debut in 2016 at Rally Finland, driving a Ford Fiesta R5 for Tommi Makinen Racing. It's interesting that Hiroki's co-driver was Glenn Macneall, who earlier served as a navigator to Toshi Arai.