In the 2008 edition of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, a certain super car was entered. On the entry list, it said simply: “LF-A.” The vehicle, which had only been announced as a concept car a year earlier and was still under development, was suddenly scheduled to participate in the race.
Typically speaking, development of new cars takes place in secrecy; however, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing deliberately entered a car which was still under development into a race with exposure to huge audiences. The reason for this decision was to conduct extreme tests at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and refine the car while fighting against rivals on living roads. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing recognized that identifying problems and points of improvement at the race, then feeding them back into the development of production cars, was a shortcut to making “ever-better” cars.
The company sought to run its cars at full speed on mountain passes with rough surfaces in a legal manner—this would have been impossible on a normal circuit, but the Nürburgring fitted the brief perfectly. If the car could compete in extreme conditions, while battling its rivals in the heat of a race, then the true qualities of the car—which would remain hidden on test courses or flat circuits—would be revealed by its finishing position.
When problems occur in a race, they must be overcome in a limited timeframe. The team utilized all their knowledge to resolve issues—at times creating hand-made reinforcements while trackside—at a rate infinitely faster than required in the development of normal production cars, and witnessed the results of their efforts with their own eyes. Each team member identified solutions for making ever-better cars; the people who make the cars developed, and the car itself developed in turn.
Haruhiko Tanahashi, chief engineer for the LFA, commented: “When I drove the race car that had competed in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, its steering felt clearly different to development cars I had driven up to then; upon analysis, the car’s bending rigidity was also different. This data was then fed back to other cars we had in development. This was something we would not have known if we had not entered the race—in other words, it is something that the race itself taught us.” In actual fact, after competing at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, the performance of the LFA increased significantly.
The 2009 LF-A development vehicle utilized the experience and knowledge gained from participation at the Nürburgring to improve its aerodynamics and body rigidity.
The Toyota 86 is another sports car that was refined in a similar manner to the LFA at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. It was officially unveiled in November at the Tokyo Motor Show 2011. Already in October, however, on the entry list for round nine of the VLN Endurance Championship Nürburgring—was the name of the Toyota 86 concept car: “FT-86.”
The FT-86 participated in the 2011 VLN. It was a prototype of the Toyota 86, a production car that was officially unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show 2011.
The FT-86 was entered into the race so it could be driven in extreme conditions. The development car masked and sported a matt-black body color; however, modifications were minimal, with the only additions being the safety equipment required by race regulations. Consequently, the FT-86 that competed at the Nürburgring was almost unchanged from the base vehicle. While it completed the four-hour race trouble-free, the team identified issues that were preventing the Toyota 86 from becoming an even better car. The car was therefore refined via participation in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring from 2012 to 2014.
The Toyota 86 was entered into three successive 24 Hours of Nürburgring races from 2012 onwards, and won its class in 2012 and 2014. Masahiko Kageyama, who drove the Toyota 86 from 2011 onwards, experienced at first hand how the car was refined: “The Toyota 86 won its class twice. However, its victories in 2012 and 2014 were significant for entirely different reasons. In 2012, the team gambled significantly, determined either to win or retire trying. In 2014, the balance of the car was ideal, and the team were confident that the 86 would win its class even if it only performed to 80 percent of its full potential. The 2014 model was a demonstration of an ‘ideal car’ that had been perfected as a result of the unceasing efforts that began in 2011.”
The 2014 version of the Toyota 86 was outstandingly balanced when running, turning, and stopping. It had grown into a car that could perform at the Nürburgring with peace of mind, comfort, and speed. The experience of developing the Toyota 86—the knowledge gained in the process of making it an ever-better car—was absorbed by the team members who engaged in the battles at the Nürburgring; and these members learned to recreate the same “flavor” found in the racing car in TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s production cars, which had a wider variety of restrictions. The result was the 86 GRMN.
Aero parts that contributed to improved aerodynamics, steering stability, and cooling; a specialized engine; increased rigidity; high-performance tires—all these elements stemmed from knowhow cultivated in the development of the racecar which had then been fed back into the development of production cars. Kageyama, who compared the ride of the racecar and the 86 GRMN, noted the similarities between them: “The 86 GRMN is fast, easy to control, tolerant, and comfortable—it is the same as the 86 that competed in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.”
Among the members who developed the 86 GRMN was Akihiro Osaka, who had performed the role of chief mechanic at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. He had earlier engaged in development of the Toyota 86 and, through participation in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, he sought to create the ideal form for the 86. He subsequently developed the 86 GRMN, and used this experience to develop the 86 production cars—a more standard vehicle.
According to Osaka, people were refined through participation in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, and this development steadily took shape in the 86 production cars: “Our work on the Nürburgring racecar and the 86 GRMN indicated that it was clearly preferable to stiffen up the rear of the vehicle—this was evident from the data as well, and so we implemented this in the Kouki. If the body is strong, it gives us greater freedom for tuning. If you compared the car before and after we made minor adjustments to the car, the difference was so big that you might have thought that the tires had been changed; however, this was purely a result of tuning the body and suspension, which enabled the car to use its tires more effectively.”
The 86 Kouki, in turn, was refined using the parts and knowledge acquired during development of the 86 GRMN, leading to the creation of the GR 86.
Yasuo Hirata, who has been involved in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring since 2007, was in charge of the driving style of the GR 86: “It is equally important both for racecars and for production cars that they can be driven at the Nürburgring with peace of mind, because peace of mind is the key to realizing an enjoyable and pleasant driving style. The GR 86 incorporates technologies and knowledge utilized in the 86 GRMN; however, since the target demographic is broader for the GR 86 than for the 86 GRMN, we took greater care to balance the car’s handling and comfort. Evaluation drivers at the Advanced Technical Skills Institute—of which I am also a member—are responsible for the driving style and set up of the 86 Kouki and GR 86, and both models handle in a similar manner. This is not surprising since the same members were in charge of developing both the 24 Hours of Nürburgring racecar and the production car. In addition, since they all have experience of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, they are able to share their ideas about what is required to create an ever-better car.”
Beginning in 2007, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing embarked on the challenge of refining its people and cars. Now, more than ten years later, its efforts have taken shape in the form of the GR. However, making ever-better cars is an unending process; seeking to develop even better cars, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing continues to participate at the Nürburgring.