In line with our featured content for our two episodes in June, Nick Smith takes a look at the underdog GT4 machine, the Toyota GT86 GT4.
There are very few times that a top tier racing championship, especially one like the British GT Championship, gets a truly unique car. In GT3 and GT4 racing its all about homologated race cars and balance of performance, one offs don’t fit that pattern at all. It makes it rather amazing that the Toyota GT86 was able to compete in the championship sporadically for three years, then contest a full season of racing in its final year.
Whats more, the 2018 British GT Championship season was blessed with two unique cars. The Jaguar F-Type SVO GT4 is another GT4 machine which has not yet raced outside of the British GT Championship.
The Toyota Motor Company spent the early part of the 2010s focussed on entering two different World Championships, the FIA World Endurance Championship and the FIA World Rally Championship campaigns were just beginning development. The launch of a GT4 suitable model, the GT86, wasn’t met with a stampede towards customer racing.
GPRM, the race team and engineering firm which developed the first NGTC race car for the British Touring Car Championship, campaigned a near stock version of the GT86 in the 2012 Britcar 24 Hours at Silverstone and finished third in class. The Buckingham based company then started work on the GT4 spec machiine, with the blessing of Toyota GB.
Toyota GT86’s Early Life
With GPRM handling the race car build, the engine work was contracted out. Nicholson McLaren Engines took on the job of tuning the 197bhp 2.0l Boxer engine to a state suitable for GT4 competition. The work took the Subaru developed power plant to between 350 and 400bhp with reworked internals and a turbocharger.
Mechanically, GPRM took on the work of lightening and reinforcing the body shell of the road going car. They also developed the aerodynamic package, including an aggressive front end restyle and the fitting of a rear spoiler.
The car made its competitive debut in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at the Silverstone 500 in 2014. Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher drove the car on its debut, but it wasn’t the start the team were hoping for. The car failed to make it to the start of the race, finally taking the green and the chequered flag at Brands Hatch, their second attempt.
It was a much better run for the Toyota, the same crew driving to 24th overall, ahead of Bradley Ellis and Adrian Barwick. Their second race finish came a month later at the Donington Decider, placing 25th. Neither finish netted points as the car wasn’t entered for the full season.
A nearly full season in 2015 only netted four points, but did introduce Richard Williams to the car for the first time. The opening round at Oulton Park brought two points while the first race at Snetterton for round 7 of the series netted a second pair, Williams and Hodgetts bringing home the points.
Homologation Paves the Way to Points
2016 was a big year for the Toyota GT86 GT4 as it joined the ranks of the Homologated GT4 cars for the first time. That meant that the single GT4 machine was no longer stuck in the invitational class and could compete on equal terms with the larger manufacturers. The driving line up changed again too, with Ollie Chadwick joining Stefan Hodgetts in the car for the first time.
Unfortunately, while the team netted more points than they ever had before, they didn’t have the most successful of seasons. Retirement at the first round of the season in Brands Hatch wasn’t a great start, the car only ran again at Silverstone for round five. This time the combination of Ginetta GT5 Challenge champion Chadwick and Hodgetts landed a podium finish and 15 points for the GPRM crew.
2017 was a similarly short year. Hodgetts was again joined by James Fletcher for the sixth round of the year at Silverstone, Richard Williams drove in the final two rounds at Brands Hatch and Donington Park. Fifth place at the Silverstone 500 would have netted their first points of the year if the car hadn’t returned to the Invitational class. It was a repeat at Brands Hatch with fifth place again.
The final round was a race of attrition, 20th overall was 13th in the GT4 class. Not the strongest of results for the GPRM crew in what would prove to be their final race under that name.
Toyota GT86’s Farewell Tour.
In 2018 the team rebranded, Steller Performance was born. The cars also got a fresh new look for their first, and unfortunately only, full season in the British GT Championship. The driver line up changed too, as for the first time the team fielded a pair of Toyota GT86 GT4 race cars in competition.
Dean MacDonald and Alex Quinn took the traditional GPRM numbered machine for rounds 1-6 of the series. The #68, the new entry into the championship was handled for its entire six round run by Tom Canning, joined by Sennan Fielding until the tail end of the season when the crew went down to a single car and Williams joined Fielding in the #86.
Again, it was a year of little reward for the team, with only 26 points in the season. Two points for Fielding and MacDonald in the first race at Snetterton was the first fruit of the year. The crew then had to endure the a pointless run in race 2 and at the Silverstone 500, they sat out Spa-Francorchamps completely.
Finally the effort came good when the racing returned to the UK and Williams joined Fielding at the helm of a single car. Brands Hatch brought 6 points for 8th place in a bumper 18 car GT4 field. The Donington Decider was better still, the Steller Performance crew finally tasting the Champagne again when Williams and Fielding drove to third place in gt4, picking up the cars second trophy on its final outing.
The End of Racing for Toyota’s 86
2019 saw the team return, a race late, to the GT4 class. The reason for the delay was great news for the team, the drivers and the championship, but not for the little Toyota that could. The Steller Performance Audi R8 LMS GT4, proved exactly what we all knew; the Steller/GPRM team were a proper racing outfit, capable of winning their class on the debut of a new car.
Toyota’s involvement in the championship was over, at least for a year. The two GT86 GT4 chassis are still owned by Steller Performance but there are no plans to run them and unlike every other GT4 programme entered into British GT, there were never any customer cars sold.
Fans of the Japanese brand shouldn’t feel too down though as Toyota return in 2020. Fittingly, Speedworks Motorsport, the team which ran the GPRM developed Toyota Avensis NGTC car from its debut to its retirement in the BTCC will bring back the brand with a single Toyota GR Supra GT4 when racing finally resumes after the COVID-19 lockdown.
The GT86 in Other Racing
Of course the Toyota GT86 GT4 wasn’t the only example of a racing GT86. The first example was the near production model which raced under the Gazoo Racing banner in the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2012 whilst a similar car took third place in the Britcar 24 Hours. British GT pilot Stefan Hodgetts was part of the four man driving time along with his father, Team Toyota GB touring car driver Chris Hodgetts, EVO Magazine journalist Richard Meaden and Travis drummer, Neil Primrose.
Soon after the model made its debut in Japanese SuperGT racing, though the Toyota 86 MC race car had little in common with the road going or even GT4 spec machine. The formula for the GT300 Mother Chassis cars includes a Dome engineered monocoque with a Nissan supplied V8 engine, upon which GT86 based panels were attached.
Several Toyota GT86s, badged as Scion FR-S race cars, compete in various levels of Formula Drift in the United States while the Toyota 86 as it is called in the Asia-Pacific region is the backbone of a single make championship in New Zealand. Similar to the single seater world’s Toyota Racing Series, where Formula Renault chassis are powered by a Toyota engine for a winter series in which the great and good of the worlds Junior single seater ladders go to hone their skills, the 86 Racing Series offers GT drivers the same opportunity.
Of course club level racing has embraced the Toyota GT86 with relish. BARC and BRSCC club level meetings are becoming increasingly familiar with modified production cars as the first of the road going models become cheap enough to turn into racers. The same is true in the States where the Toyota 86, Scion FR-S and its identical Subaru twin the BRZ are becoming an increasingly popular choice for racing on a budget.
In 2016 another racing variant made its debut in a UK championship too. Auto Express journalist and now Top Gear presenter Chris Harris campaigned the Toyota GT86 R3 rally version of the sportscar in the Mid Wales Stages Rally, the opening round of the re-launched MSA British Rally Championship.