If you love driving, it's hard not to have at least a sneaking admiration for the Toyota 86, which is compact, lightweight, and underpinned by one of the finest-handling chassis on the planet. Yet, for a lot of us, it's admiration that comes with a sense it's never had the chance to be everything it should have. See, neither Toyota nor its project partner, Subaru, ever gave it the straight-line pace to match. Some might argue it would've unsettled that carefully engineered platform, but MCA Suspension is setting the record straight. Judging by this car, they're making a strong case, too. One of only two VR38-converted 86s in existence (as far as we know), it's not only delivering five times the factory power output, but it's doing so without the aid of four-wheel drive or some sort of one-off chassis. And the results speak volumes; a ninth-place finish in the fiercely competitive Open Class at the '17 World Time Attack Challenge in Sydney—its first outing, following a build that took only four months. That's a pretty big oversight on Toyota's part, right?
"It's probably my favorite current car," owner and driver Josh Coote tells me, as the MCA team take on the post-event teardown around us. "It's a great basis for a race car; modern, with a relatively low starting weight, front engine and rear-wheel drive. More attention to detail than most other modern cars, very rewarding to drive, and a capable underdog."
Of course, it's not so much of an underdog with the right brains on board. MCA Suspension is the name to beat in WTAC, having taken the overall title the last two years with the Pro Class "Hammerhead" S13—named after its aggressive front-end aero. The family-owned company, based in Queensland, has built products for pretty much every type of motorsport you can name; engineering taken straight from Josh and his dad, Murray, competing themselves.
"I've been coming to WTAC with the team since we first entered in '11," Josh explains. "I enjoy it because you get a lot of freedom with how you design and build the car. Building a car to do one or two laps at a time is easier than building one that needs to last a whole race, so you can get a bit more crazy and inventive with things."
To a point, anyway. For all the wild aero, four-figure horsepower, and mind-bending lap times, there are strict limits even in the Pro classes, which means everything in the pits is essentially a heavily modified steel monocoque with the standard suspension points in place. It's a great leveler, which makes vehicle choice critical, and puts some unlikely sounding machinery into the quickest times. It's also ideal conditions for the 86, especially with one of the world's most experienced suspension builders behind it.
This car's route into the Open Class wasn't entirely planned, though. Josh picked it up in standard spec with a view to building it as a track toy, but an MCA suspension kit, bolt-on aero parts, and a little weight saving showed it had more potential than the 2.0-liter flat-four could unlock. The solution was neither Toyota's straight-six, nor a Lexus V-8, but the Nissan VQ37. And it's not quite the odd fit you might expect: naturally aspirated to preserve the standard car's high-revving peak power, and mounted right at the back of the bay, as the original engine had been, to avoid upsetting the balance engineered in from the factory.
For Josh, it wasn't a difficult choice: "I'm a Nissan guy really, so I was happy to put a Nissan motor in the 86," he laughs. "Also, being a suspension guy, the balance of the car isn't a big issue for me. We can solve that, plus aero balance overrides a lot of that, too. Then we found the increase in power with some basic aero mods was putting down some ridiculously quick lap times, so we decided to take things to the next level, which is where we are today."
Competing at WTAC would have quickly shown up the limits of the VQ37, but that swap had laid the foundations for the GT-R's VR38 to slot into the front end of the 86, after a rebuild at Fataz Competition Engines in Queensland. Crammed up against the bulkhead, it left just enough space for the two low-weight BorgWarner race turbos, manifolds, and steeply angled PWR intercooler and radiators without being impossible to work on between sessions on track.
There's a huge amount of engineering involved in getting the resulting 1,006 bhp onto the tarmac. The Holinger sequential gearbox is spaced to shift the weight further into the wheelbase and linked up to a 350Z NISMO rear end via a heavy-duty prop and driveshafts. At each corner, the custom-built Koya wheels are wrapped in WTAC's Advan control tyres and home to STI-spec Brembo brakes—a hard-worked setup with that much power, but only tasked with keeping 2,700 pounds on the track.
Open Class rules mean suspension mounting points can be strengthened but not changed, so the body structure here is close to the road car, though it's stiffened with the required CAMS-compliant rollcage. Aiming to show what the 86 could manage with simple upgrades, the chassis is stock except for fully adjustable MCA Red Series suspension and the company's Traction Mod kit, which flattens the angle of the rear arms and improves straight-line and cornering stability.
The rest comes down to aerodynamics. With only a few weeks before the car needed to be in Sydney, MCA called in Andrew Brilliant of AMB Aero to re-sculpt the coupe for speeds higher than Toyota had ever imagined it could reach. The one-off kit was based on 3D scans of the car and flows into the Aimgain over-fenders, which were already on the car. The bodywork was built to meet the tight size and weight requirements of the Open Class regs, so there's no part that doesn't serve a purpose, including the hidden airbox that drags cold air in through the bumper and cooling pack and out through the vent on the hood.
"It's early days, but it's shown a lot of potential already," Josh says. "A thousand horsepower is a lot to try and manage through two wheels, so it can be a bit difficult depending on the kind of track, but we've got a year to develop it at other events before it comes back to WTAC. I'm excited to see what it can do in 2018."
So are we. Toyota might have missed the opportunity to show off what the 86 could really handle, but that's nothing a few months of hard work, six cylinders, and a whole lot of boost can't cure. If anything, we're only scratching the surface.