Remember last year when we broke the story on a very special minivan created to blow minds on the racetrack? (Ahem, Sienna R-Tuned ...) The evil geniuses over at Toyota decided this year that building a fast minivan just wasn't enough; they wanted to show the world what this van was made of. And what better way to do that than compete in One Lap of America?
For those who don't know, One Lap of America (OLOA) is the ultimate test of will and endurance for both cars and drivers. The concept is simple: Take your really fast car and drive it on racetracks all around America ... for eight days! You only get a couple of three-lap sessions at each track and each lap is timed. While that may seem simple enough, trust me when I say it isn't easy. Did I forget to mention that you'd be driving said "fast car" from track to track for the next eight days? Did I also mention that some tracks are up to 600 miles apart? Oh, OK. At most, you can expect four to five hours of sleep each night at some random hotel in some random town. You also better get used to gas station grub because there's no way you're gonna be eating a nice meal for the next week and a half.
We were pretty confident Toyota and Dan Gardner Racing (mastermind behind the R-Tuned Sienna) would be able to hold their own on OLOA, but as a curveball the team also brought a Plain Jane SE model to show how much fun can be had in a stock minivan that anyone can buy from a local Toyota dealer.
Each van wore many hats for the duration of One Lap. Gear haulers, people movers, race cars, and city transport were just some of the duties. This meant that each van had to get extra attention before each track to stay competitive. Alignments and tires pressures were checked and adjusted for each course. I gotta take my hat off to these guys for putting in so much work.
I met up with the Sienna team at Tire Rack for Day 1 of the eight-day competition. My schedule didn't allow me to complete the full journey, but I would be spending the next four days with these guys. Lucky for me, I was spoiled because the Toyota guys are one rad group of dudes. Just look at all the sticker bombing that took place in the first few hours!
To top things off, Toyota enlisted the help of two pretty rad drivers-Craig Stanton, Grand-Am champ piloting the Sienna R-Tuned, and Rutledge Wood, Top Gear USA host, aka Dang'ol Billy Badass, driving the Sienna SE.
Co-piloting the SE was Andy Lund, lead project manager for the Sienna; he's also the one guy who has seen the new Sienna from concept to completion.
After both vans finished their runs on the wet skidpad during Day 1, it was time to pack it up at Tire Rack HQ and head to our next destination: Pittsburgh - 341 miles away!
On Day 2, we arrived at Pitt-Race, aka Pittsburgh International Raceway. While all of us were running on three hours of sleep, it was time to focus and knock out a day of racing.
Spirits were high while energy levels were low, and Craig put up some impressive times behind the wheel of the R-Tuned Sienna.
Rutledge and Andy were pushing hard in the S-Tuned as well. I still couldn't believe these guys were driving the stock minivan that hard on a racetrack!
By the time lunch rolled around, word got out that Toyota brought two well-known hot-shoe drivers for One Lap and fans started coming by the pits to say hello.
After all was said and done on Day 2, Team Toyota was holding down the top spot in its class and placed in the middle of the field in the overall standings. It was time to head off to Whiskey Hill Raceway, aka Palmer Motorsports Park - 585 miles away!
The next 10 hours felt like an eternity with only two stops for refueling both the vans and the team.
It's really weird how many gas stations on the East Coast have Subways built into them. I think this was the fourth Subway gas station I saw in a row...
We arrived in Massachusetts around 3 a.m. after we crossed through four states and almost 600 miles. To get ready for Day 3 of racing, we had a 7 a.m. call time, which gave me just enough time to close my eyes and wish I didn't have to wake up.
When we arrived at Palmer Motorsports Park, the pits were already filled with teams and spectators.
Since we had all spent the better half of 72 hours together, Rutledge decided to brighten up the mood by busting out his pink bunny hat to inject some sunshine into the atmosphere.
Whiskey Hill is a relatively new racetrack so many teams and drivers haven't had the luxury of driving on it before, but it became very apparent that the cars with big power numbers would get a huge advantage muscling up the big hill.
Sadly, this is where my stint with team Toyota would come to an end.
I wish I could've stayed for the full eight days with the crew as they drove Siennas from state to state, covering more than 3,000 miles. My hat goes off to Dan Gardner and his team. I have a newfound respect for all the competitors who are tough enough to brave this legendary race, let alone do it in a van!
While I wasn't there to witness it, the Toyota team finished the entire race. The R-Tuned earned first in its class and a 21st finish overall; however, the big story here is that both vans finished the race. You didn't really expect a nearly stock minivan to beat a GT-R or a Dodge Viper did you? But it did ...