Driven goes for a spin in Toyota's new fast machine

When Driven broke the news that Toyota Racing management may be building a race-ready GT 86, there was plenty of interest among the New Zealand racing fraternity.

Then when it was officially announced by Toyota New Zealand and Toyota Racing, interest intensified.

And now a modified 86 is out of the garage and on the track.

When I was at the opening of the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell over Easter I was taken for a spin in the first completed car.


It was no surprise that even on the shakedown laps at the Cromwell circuit, the car was fast and well-balanced straight out of the box.

Category manager for the Toyota Racing Series, Barrie Thomlinson, built a race-prepared TR (Toyota Racing) 86 and he told me that the car had come straight from the factory to the track with no preparatory work.

"The chassis, suspension, or anything for that matter, hasn't been tuned, tweaked or fettled yet," he said. "We only finished the car the other day and we're here to see how it goes."

After Thomlinson had driven the car around a few laps to make sure everyone was bolted on properly, he handed the keys to former Australian rally champion Neal Bates.

The Aussie has a modified GT 86 at home in Canberra and was keen to put the Kiwi one through its paces - with Driven as passenger.

He had the thing sideways, backwards, drifting flat out in fourth, and on the ragged edge for several laps.

"I've been lucky enough to drive and race just about anything and these cars are by far the best-handling and best-balanced cars I've driven," said Bates.

"The poise and attitude of the car as you set it up for the corners inspires confidence and allows you to get the most out of the car.

"They're almost perfectly balanced and you get them turned in quickly, on the power earlier and away you go."

What's even more surprising is the gearbox (and ratios) is standard, as is most of the rest of the drivetrain.

Someone took their time with the development of this car, or perhaps it's just that rear-wheel-drive is better.

Following the positive feedback after the TR 86 concept car was displayed at racetracks this season, competitors can buy the TR 86 for $70,000 plus GST with a series pack consisting of spare race wheels and a competition data dash adding an extra $8000 (plus GST).

Stanaway keen as ever
Young Kiwi racing driver Richie Stanaway is fully recovered from the injuries he sustained after a crash at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium last year.

In an interview in Driven in February, Stanaway confirmed that he had signed a deal to race in the Porsche Mobil One Supercup with French team Dams.

Now we've heard that Stanaway may race in the World Endurance Championships in an Aston Martin.

In recent testing, the Kiwi driver was quickly on the pace and after only four laps was matching or beating far more experienced drivers in a car he had never driven before at a track he had never seen before.

"He was phenomenal as he always is when getting in a car for the first time," said his mentor, Maurice O'Reilly.

"After a couple of laps on old tyres he was on the pace.

"And when they put new tyres on he was faster than Bruno Senna after four laps.

"Within another 10 laps he was only a hundredth of a second slower than Pedro Lamy.

"After that the team was on the radio asking him to slow down."

Stanaway is regarded as one of the rising stars in open-wheel racing and now he's shown he can be just as quick in sports cars.

He won the first two European championships he contested and was just beginning to make inroads in the WSR 3.5-litre championship before his accident. But he has a long way to go before he has a chance to prove himself at the hight of motorsport - Formula One - and his chosen aim of being world champion.

However, if he can make his mark in the Porsche championship and the WEC he's going to take a big step in the right direction of getting his open-wheel aspirations back on track.