Glorious day at the track with “Hachiroku” #gt86
More often than not I find myself thinking that one of the reasons I like Toyota is because it’s a real company made of genuine people. No hype, no bull, just a simple mission – making good cars – and an honest way of going about it.
Today was such a day. I had the privilege to attend the Toyota GAZOO Racing Festival at the Fuji Speedway near Tokyo, Japan. The festival is an annual event, but this year was a bit special because it was the chosen event for Toyota to unveil the much-awaited, new rear-wheel drive sports car whose prototype version was known as the FT-86. You would think that a big car company would go out of its way to produce an extravagant show for such an anticipated occasion. After all, some have said that the car symbolises the “rebirth” of the company under the leadership of President Akio Toyoda. It’s also a kind of car that Toyota, and others in the industry, haven’t made in a long time: an accessible rear-wheel drive sports car that promises to be a true driver’s car.
No, no grand show at Toyota, even though you could tell today’s event was a big deal. The newborn car is made for drivers, people who like driving, people who like cars. So TMC (Toyota Motor Corp.) thought it was quite fitting to unveil the car at a race track, on a weekend, so that the 20,000 or so gathered there on this beautiful fall Sunday could enjoy the moment.
It was simple staging too. President Toyoda just drove the car onto the track right after the GAZOO Racing Team had taken position on the grid, leaving behind the lovely smell of petrol, rubber and the sound of engine revs. He climbed out, took off his helmet, and greeted the crowd excitedly. They, in turn, responded with cheers and applause.
The car is real, too. First of all, I think it looks fantastic [have a look at our image gallery - Ed]. You can look at it from any angle, and there’s something interesting to see. The body’s wheel arches are quite pronounced, making it look like it’s ready to pounce. The roof’s embossed design is picked up at the front of the hood just behind the Toyota emblem. The “piston” logo on the front fenders, just ahead of the A-pillar, is a great little detail. It just reads “86″, “hachiroku” in Japanese, which is the name of the car in its final production version in Japan [we'll know it in Europe as the GT 86 – Ed]. Simple but effective, with a great-looking typeface reminiscent of a cult racing movie starring Steve McQueen.
From the comments overheard here and there amongst the reporters invited to the event, the driving pleasure aboard the car is quite genuine too. That was the idea, as explained by Chief Engineer Tada-san. It hits the mark. Journalists just got two laps of a short test circuit today, but from the smiles on their faces when they stepped out of the car, you could tell they had fun. Apparently, turning traction control off does just that – it’s just you and the car. One reporter from Australia got a taste of it when he finished his last curve in a 360° spin…
I’m far from being a trained driver, but I got it to drift, or at least I had the feeling it did, on my two laps. The engine noise is sweet, the driving position excellent, the interior well executed and sporty – new functionalism as described in the presentation material. Yet you are definitely in a Toyota, the Corolla heritage isn’t far behind, and in my humble opinion that is not necessarily a bad thing. It means quality, reliability, sound and simple engineering, and the heritage of a couple of very good cars, the AE86 Levin and the 2000GT – a Bond car at some point.
Some more pictures from Sunday