Your eyes aren't deceiving you. You aren't having a bad dream. Ladies and gentlemen, the Toyota Supra will be used in NASCAR beginning next year! Like many of you, we didn't know what to think, especially after we were teased with a stunning, race-ready Gazoo Racing concept earlier this year at Geneva Motor Show. Four months later and on U.S. soil, we're now teased with the next phase of what seems to be Toyota's global strategy for the new Supra.
We're a couple of days away from one of NASCAR's biggest stages at Daytona, and Toyota has surprised us with this unusual announcement. Why not build something to race at Nurburgring or Le Mans? What about Super GT in Japan, Pikes Peak or IMSA? Hell, even a beefed up Supra for drag racing would be cool... But NASCAR?! It's hard to grasp right off the bat, but Toyota has their reasons and it goes beyond having a pushrod V8-powered Supra go around an oval 500 times. To begin to understand, we had to dig a little deeper, starting with TRD USA.
THE EVOLUTION OF TOYOTA RACING DEVELOPMENT (TRD)
For those of you that have been in the industry since the good 'ol days, you know the name TRD for aftermarket/performance parts developed in Japan. TRD USA was established in 1979 and began importing all of these cool JDM parts for models like the Supra and Celica, also performing installations in their Southern California facility. In the beginning, TRD had barely any relationship with Toyota USA, but that would change in the early '80s, as together they began collaborating and developing support programs for nearly every U.S. motorsport. TRD became an OEM-backed resource for helping teams advance their vehicles, and it just so happened that TRD became extremely good and won nearly every championship possible (NASCAR XFINITY and Truck Series; NHRA; off-road racing and rally; Formula DRIFT; USAC racing). Add to that a number of wins at some of racing's biggest events (Baja 1000, Daytona 500, Indy 500, Pike Peak International Hill Climb) and you understand their level of motorsport success.
Today, TRD USA has 250 employees, two facilities (California and North Carolina), and is fully owned by Toyota North America. They're not a parts importer like before, but an engine and vehicle motorsport company. They partner with many teams and support nearly all of Toyota's racing programs which include the Camry, Tundra and now Supra in NASCAR, as well as Camry in NHRA Funny Car and ARCA, 86 and Corolla Hatchback in Formula DRIFT, and engine support for dirt midget racing.
SO WHY NASCAR?
Because it just made sense. In '03, Toyota and TRD had a big commitment to open-wheel racing (and even won the Indy 500), but they realized it wasn't in-line with the company's goals and had very little correlation with the cars sold off their dealers' lots. At the time, NASCAR was on the ascent and Toyota wanted to foster a stronger connection with the American demographic, especially to show that Toyota is more than just a Japanese company, that they value motorsport and employ Americans.
Over the years, Toyota and TRD put a heavy investment into NASCAR, winning several races and coordinating large activations at each track. They began to see a correlation between NASCAR wins, fans supporting the Toyota name, and buyers considering their cars. Many of us at Super Street are quick to dismiss NASCAR but it is still one of the most viewed events not only in motorsport, but in all sports in America. For example, the average TV viewership of Daytona 500 in '16 was 11.4 million. That's a lot of eyeballs and racing enthusiasts.
NASCAR RULE CHANGE
While becoming successful at NASCAR has played a huge role for Toyota, there was still something that bugged all manufacturers competing in NASCAR for many years: every car looked exactly the same, minus a sticker that read Ford, Chevy or Toyota. This was of course done to even out the playing field; however, in '13, NASCAR officials worked with OEMs to modify the rulebook to allow more freedom of design. Areas of race cars were standardized in common areas, but styling would be updated to allow teams to incorporate more design cues from the production cars and trucks.
TRD enlisted the help of Calty Design Research, Inc. (Calty) in California to design the Camry, Tundra and now Supra. Both would work together to achieve as much consistency between the production model and race car as possible, while still improving on-track performance before being perfected in a wind tunnel. This was obviously a win for all OEs as they could create a better relationship between their race cars and the cars they're trying to sell to the public.
SUPRA MAKES SENSE
So, here's where it takes a little bit of an open mind when we say, "the Toyota Supra makes sense for NASCAR." Most of us have fallen in love with the Supra from its racing in IMSA Camel GT Series in America, to Super GT in Japan, or perhaps a few of its appearances in 24 Hour of Le Mans in the '90s. At Super Street, we remember the Supra for the iconic time attack examples raced in Japan by the likes of Top Secret and JUN Auto, to the hundreds of shops around the world who've mastered the 2JZ-GTE and made it an unstoppable force on the drag strip. The DNA of Supra is performance and racing, and with NASCAR as the largest watched motorsport in America, doesn't it make sense to use the Supra badge instead of the Camry?
At the heart of the Supra is that it's a sports car and it's meant to be raced, and with it going against big domestic brands like Ford and Chevy, doesn't it make a bit of sense? What we have to understand is that this is only a small piece of the overall new Supra strategy, and it's a small piece geared to bring in a whole new audience that are more likely to consider buying a Camaro or Mustang than ever thinking about a Supra. The Supra could be just that car that'll get them in the door at a Toyota dealership, or better yet, introduce the Supra to an enthusiast who hasn't been a fan of the iconic model from its glory days in the '90s. What we have to answer is will this affect our perception and opinion of the new Supra? Or will we still be advocates of a sports car that made us a believer in what Toyota is doing?
UNDERSTANDING THE XFINITY SERIES
We won't pretend we know a lot about NASCAR so we needed to get schooled a bit to understand where the new Supra will race next year. The main Cup series that you see on Fox Sports every weekend is the big dog series where the Camry will still run in '19. The new Supra will play in the "minor league" feeder series known as Xfinity Series (NXS).
Toyota started racing in the Xfinity Series in '07 and have won two driver's championships (Kyle Busch in '09 and Daniel Suarez in '16). Kyle Busch has won the most all-time Xfinity Series races with 92 and he'll be one of the drivers competing in the Supra next year. The Supra will make its on-track debut in the NXS race at Daytona on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.
The main differences between the Cup and Xfinity series are a slightly shorter wheelbase (105 inches instead of 110), 100 pounds less weight, and a less powerful engine. Before you get too worried, there's going to be very little shared between the Xfinity Supra and the production model Supra except for the design cues and badges. Overall, the Supra competing in NASCAR is more of a branding and motorsport campaign. While the Supra competing in NXS is newsworthy, we're still left in the dark about details on the new Supra. But judging by this strategy to bring Supra into NASCAR, we can expect a few more surprises up Toyota's sleeve in the coming months.
Below is a basic spec of what the Supra has to be spec'd at to compete in NXS:
- Chassis: Steel tube frame with integral safety roll cage—must meet NASCAR standards
- Engine displacement: 5,800 cc (5.8 L; 353.9 cu in) Pushrod V8
- Transmission: 4-speed manual
- Weight: 3,200 lb minimum (without driver); 3,400 lb minimum (with driver)
- Power output: 650-700 hp, 450 hp restricted
- Torque: 520 ft-lb
- Fuel: 90 MON, 98 RON, 94 AKI unleaded gasoline provided by Sunoco 85% + Sunoco Green Ethanol E15
- Fuel capacity: 18 gallons
- Fuel delivery: Carburetion
- Compression ratio: 12:1
- Aspiration: Naturally aspirated
- Carburetor size: 390 ft3/min (184 L/s) 4 barrel
- Wheelbase: 110 in (2,794 mm)
- Steering: Power, recirculating ball
- Tires: Slick tires and rain tires provided by Goodyear
- Length: 203.75 in (5,175 mm)
- Width: 75 in (1,905 mm)
- Height: 51 in (1,295 mm)
Notable QUOTES from the VP of Toyota and Kyle Busch
"When you talk Toyota and cool cars, Supra is the first thing that comes to mind for many auto enthusiasts. Supra's return in production form is huge news, but now we're also going to see this iconic sports car return to American motorsport. From a marketing perspective, it's important to have a race car that evokes the dynamism and character of its showroom counterpart. We're confident we've accomplished that with Supra, and we hope racing fans the world over will proudly cheer its success on track."
- Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division Marketing
"When Ed (Laukes) told me they were bringing Supra back, I almost didn't believe him. I figured he was messing with me, but Toyota did it and this is a big deal for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Supra is an iconic cool car, and to have it racing in NASCAR to highlight Supra's return speaks to how important this is. I'm hoping to be the first guy to get Supra to victory lane, but I'm sure there's a few other Toyota drivers thinking the same thing."
-Kyle Busch, won the 2009 NXS championship in a Camry