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After more than a decade of competing against Chevrolet and Ford in NASCAR series, Toyota is introducing a new model. The Toyota Supra Race Car for the NASCAR Xfinity Series will start competing next season in what is known as the “feeder” series for NASCAR. “Camry is the right car for the highest racing cup series, and we don’t have any plans to change that,” said David Wilson, the president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development (TRD). “Supra is an iconic brand that has a fairly rich history within our company, and we thought that Xfinity would be the perfect place [to race it].”
When Toyota raced the Camry for the first time in a NASCAR Cup Series in 2007, it did so with the purpose of showing fans the “Americanization” of the brand. Even though it seemed like the Camry didn’t fit with the sport, today 61 percent of NASCAR fans support the brand’s participation—a number that keeps growing every year. See the NASCAR Camry here.
For a closer look at the Supra Race Car, we traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we gathered around the car inside a wind tunnel. It’s essentially a race car with a sticker on it, but we’re warned that some of the design cues came straight from the production car. Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research, is responsible for the exterior styling. Although Hunter knows we have to be creative to see the real production Supra hidden under the race car, he’s pleased with how the design was completed. “We’re really happy with the way it came out,” Hunter said as he was showing his most recent work. Andy Graves, TRD’s group vice president and technical director, added, “We tried to keep as much of the production-based characteristics as possible.”
You have to use your imagination to see the few elements from the production car. For example, the shapes of the headlights mimic the ones on the production car; they come from the GR Supra Racing concept shown earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show. The front splitter with the three separate grilles will be part of the face of the production car, but we’re told more aggressive air vents will replace the small openings on the front fascia. On the back, the taillights and rear diffuser will be very similar to the ones we see here, but a smaller spoiler attached to the tailgate will replace the huge wing from the cup car. The profile of the race car doesn’t carry any production cues, and we have to look at the FT-1 concept for some hints on the sides.
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Although the design of the production Supra took place in a studio outside the United States, Toyota’s Calty studio is responsible for creating both, the Supra Race Car and the FT-1 concept car shown at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. When we first reported on the FT-1 a few years ago, we noted the racing fingerprints on the concept car.
“All of the cars that we’re working on for NASCAR are cars that were generated out of our design studio,” said Hunter. “So we try to get the designer that worked on that production car to work on this [NASCAR]. We’re basically taking a production car and trying to re-proportion it, and jam it into this packaging, but keeping the identity,” he added.
Getting the right aerodynamics was essential for Toyota. The development and design teams worked hand in hand, making many adjustments to get the aero correct. “The catch ball that we have is hitting the aero properly,” Hunter said. “We modified it over and over again, and Andy’s team would take it to the wind tunnel, test it, try some things, and then come back to us [to modify it]. Graves added that because of the successful relationship between Calty and TRD, the cup car was quickly turned around. “This project took a little under a year. Our early cup cars would take a year, and the 2018 Camry took a year and a half,” said Graves.
A key difference between the Supra Race Car and other Toyota cup cars from the past is that Graves and his team had access to the Supra engineering team in Japan. Given Toyota’s recent success in NASCAR and the importance that the sport plays for the brand, Grave’s development team had discussions with Supra’s production team in Japan before they started work on the race car. Graves noted that Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer for the Supra, was also interested in the culture and understanding the NASCAR series. “That was a really nice perk,” Graves added.
Tada-san’s vision of Supra goes far beyond a production car. It’s a sports car with a rich history in America and around the world, and given Akio Toyoda’s push for the “Fun to Drive Again” slogan, there was reason to race the Supra. “It’s about taking one of the iconic brands that’s been associated with Toyota for decades and taking it to the racetrack and having fun with it,” said Wilson. He added that Tada-san attended a number of NASCAR races and learned about the sport. “It’s a great opportunity for Supra, to bring it back to life,” Wilson said.
There are no plans to race the Supra in other series outside of NASCAR, but given Toyota’s push for the sports car and the engagement with fans around the world, we’re sure we’ll be seeing another type of Supra race car in the future. “Racing is great, but it’s really what we’re going to do off the track to bring Supra further down the road,” Wilson noted.
Although Toyota plans to show the production Supra in the first half of next year, the company has announced that it will be built alongside the BMW Z4, a car that shares plenty of bits with the Supra; both production cars will be built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria.