Toyota Track Day With New Gazoo Racing Specials Keeps Sports Cars Trending

Photography: Mike Maravilla / Sam Du

  • Gazoo Racing (GR) is a motorsport division of Toyota, similar to BMW M, Mercedes AMG, or Hyundai N.
  • Three special editions of the GR86, GR Corolla, and GR Supra respond to consumer demand while also celebrating Toyota’s long-standing fandom and heritage.
  • Pit+Paddock editors Sam Du and Mike Maravilla attended a launch party in Midtown Manhattan followed by a no-holds-barred track day at Englishtown’s Raceway Park to commemorate the reveal.
  • Toyota’s effort to invite key industry guests and motorsport icons alike kept enthusiast cars front and center on social media as the Gazoo Racing name picks up valuable steam.

Too often these days, enthusiast cars are viewed as a subordinate interest to the industry at large. It’s true that the rhetoric about transportation has shifted somewhat towards lumbering people carriers rather than emotional, sensory-stimulating handiwork; but weeks like this — where sports cars intersected art, culture, cuisine, and modern media — served as a reminder that this innovative jewel within the automotive space should be cherished equally. After all, many of the technical standards that the entire industry cherishes today, including hybridization, ABS, or even better gas mileage from aerodynamic improvements, tricked down from motorsport.

Toyota has been among the few automakers hell-bent on creating a balanced attack for these two vastly different desires. While its standard fare is more often known for its sensibility and reliability than lap times, its Gazoo Racing (GR) lineup has infused a livelier spirit into its cars without sacrificing an ounce of Toyota’s long-standing reputation.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The first day was all about getting acquainted. Toyota helped us get into the spirit with some of its current Gazoo Racing samplings as we made our way toward the Toyota New York Regional Office in Caldwell, New Jersey. Here, we’d earned some one-on-one time with the three limited edition models before their official launch.

The GR86 Trueno Edition, the GR Supra 45th Anniversary, and the GR Corolla Circuit Edition (largely similar, save for the Blue Flame paint job) were all parked in line to greet us. While Sam has had four years to become apprised of Gazoo Racing’s praises, it was a nice opportunity for me to take in each of the car’s details — not just the new things that make these special editions unique — but crucially each tactile experience and how they made me feel in the driver’s seat. Although our timetable was short, I found myself pausing to record those impressions. On this day, the 45th Anniversary Supra won my favor. The new Mikan Blast paint is a stunner and the ZF 6-speed manual gearbox is the one that should’ve been in the Supra all along — rowing gears in the garage felt sublime.

EASTBOUND AND DOWN

Smitten by the 45th Anniversary special, I hopped into the driver’s seat of the manual Supra and we made our way into New York City, a night’s sleep ahead of the official launch party at Hudson Mercantile in Midtown.

The event was tidy — a smart casual mix of media, manufacture, and motorsport — and the untucked atmosphere allowed everyone to just enjoy each other’s company amidst good food and Manhattan’s bustling backdrop. Just before closing time, I put together a handful of LEGO characters (in Toyota GR gear, fittingly enough) and retreated to a full night’s sleep.

THE SHAKEDOWN

My party hat stayed stowed away in my luggage for one good reason: the following day we’d have the opportunity to drive the new Gazoo Racing offerings at Englishtown’s Raceway Park in New Jersey. Englishtown’s short, but technical track was a great proving ground for this bunch, and it’s where motorsport icons Frederic Aasbo, Ryan Tuerck, Ken Gushi, and Jhonnattan Castro were waiting for their own chance to shakedown the cars. I woke up at 6 o’clock to a disappointingly damp morning, but a spirited jaunt across the state line must’ve done enough to keep the rain clouds away. Truth be told, I’d read very little about any of these cars from other journalists, so I was ready to form opinions of my own.

GR86: A brief driver’s meeting and a cup of coffee were the only things between me and what I had been waiting to do all week long. Eager to compare this 2nd generation car to my old BRZ, I grabbed the keys to the blue GR86 and set out onto the course. The new 2.4-liter engine is exactly what this car needed. It’s not going to set any records, but because of its humble power figures, it’s an immediately confidence-inspiring drive. The car’s mannerisms feel reminiscent of the FRS/BRZ of old and just like the old car. Oversteer is progressive, so it’s quite easy to catch, and there’s a nice amount of communication coming through the steering wheel to tell you how much grip you have through the twisty bits.

GR86 Trueno Edition: It seemed fitting to make the GR86 Trueno Edition my next stop. The internet was perhaps the most critical of this car amongst the trio; everyone still believes that the GR86 needs more power, but I believe that the improvements Toyota has made on the Trueno Edition (better brakes, new Sachs dampers) are enough. The new dampers make the car unbelievably compliant and will help mask stabby driver inputs that would’ve otherwise unsettled the chassis a great deal. The new stoppers are fantastic and offer great modulation through the pedal. Like the standard GR86, it’s the least “fussy” of the three — there aren’t drive mode toggles here — you just get in and go, which I love. Without any changes, this car would be the perfect track tool for someone who is looking for affordable seat time and wants to learn about vehicle dynamics.

GR Corolla: I’ve never owned an all-wheel-drive car, but the way this car can go around the track is absolutely logic-defying. It’s a quick little thing and the shove will make short memory of the 1.6-liter three-cylinder lump powering all four wheels. It’s not “fast” per say, but it builds speed in a very linear fashion. Redline comes faster than you think and the next gear is a short throw away before you watch the needle climb upward again. Unlike the analog GR86, this car’s tech is a standout. The drive modes toggle both throttle sharpness and bias (front-wheel, neutral, and rear-wheel), and even in the most “extreme” setting, the chassis never felt challenged. You can tell that this car was made to do this; despite carrying an extra 400 lbs over the GR86, it felt extremely light on its feet. It’s a car that will cover up your errors, so if you’re aiming to look like a driving god without much effort, this is probably the one you want.

45th Anniversary GR Supra: The most unfair thing about this car is getting into the GR Corolla first. That car, as much as I hate to say it, made the Supra feel a bit out of step, and a bit lazier to rotate. Nevertheless, this car is still the flagship of the Gazoo Racing lineup, and once you’ve recalibrated your brain, the Supra is still a formidable weapon. It will trounce the others in a straight line — it has more than 150 horsepower over the GR86 — and maintains its grip through the corners if you respect it enough. I liked the shifter in this one the most out of the lot, though this car packs so much torque that you’ll be shifting gears more out of your own pleasure than necessity. The torque helps with one other thing, however; it’s the best of the three to put on a smoke show.

THE ONE I’D CHOOSE

If you’d asked me the same question two days before, my answer would’ve been different — as the flagship of the lot, I’d have chosen the GR Supra. But after a day of driving on the track, I think the GR Corolla is my new favorite. I’d imagine that my conviction for the car would grow on the street, too, given its penchant for practicality. That being said, each vehicle brings something valuable to the table and there’s honestly no wrong answer to which one you’d park in your garage. The dexterity and confidence of the GR86 Trueno Edition are incredible (especially at its price point), the wizardry and balance of the GR Corolla are mind-boggling, and the presence and might of the Supra are unmatched.

But more than anything, Toyota’s effort here does something else: it keeps the conversation about sports cars alive. These limited edition models may only incrementally improve things over their regular stablemates, but truthfully, isn’t that everything we try to do in the aftermarket? Toyota is doing that here, in its own way, and we should commend a manufacturer for continually giving us turn-key specials like these, both for our own enjoyment and the rippling excitement that it creates across the industry.

Whether you use your keyboard to sing praises for these limited edition models or complain that they’re not “enough” for you, this latest introduction has still created enough buzz to supplant Gazoo Racing as a formidable player even more. Well done, Toyota. You have my attention.


 

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