Toyota 86 T86RS 2016 review
Flying. Neal Bates is really flying as he shows what his Toyota 86 is capable of.
We're slightly sideways at better than 140km/h, howling up past 200km/h, and braking deep and late in a car that has been tuned and tweaked — but not spoiled — to star in a new one-make motor racing series in Australia.
But the party trick is a giant jump as Bates flings the 86 around a closed road course that was once used to train highway patrol officers for the ACT police. This is Big Air and we're both laughing out loud.
The brightly coloured racer is a long way down the track from the 86 in showrooms, yet still surprisingly close.
"We've tried to keep the spirit of the car, with not too much power or too much grip, to make it challenging and fun for youngsters in the championship," Bates tells me.
It already seems to have worked, with 35 confirmed entries for the start of the series including sons-of-guns Aaron Seton and Ben Grice. Toyota is mixing in pro drivers for each race, including Glenn Seton.
Tweaking of the car starts predictably with a full rollcage and wraparound seat and the other regulation safety gear, with locally developed suspension by Queensland shock absorber guru Murray Coote, upgraded brakes with bigger discs and AP Racing calipers, slightly bigger 18-inch alloy wheels with semi-slick tyres, and all-new exhaust with MoTec engine computer. There is a rear spoiler but it's tiny.
The all-up bill for the extra stuff is less than $35,000, so it's possible to hit the track without paying more than $70,000.
So the Toyota 86 Racing Series shapes as affordable, entry-level motorsport at a time when the costs for professional motorsport are through the roof. The big challenge is to boost drivers to the next level, which probably means Supercars racing in Australia.
On the track
The 86 experience in Canberra begins with a refresher session in a regular road-going car.
It's not fast — the Subaru-built flat-four is not particularly inspiring — but it's great fun. It romps around the track, can be hustled without fear, and does nothing wrong or nasty.
Stepping into the race series car (more correctly, squeezing in past the rollcage), we reckon the car looks mostly standard. The MoTec dash display is hi-tech, the seat is Supercars-style supportive but the 86 still starts and runs like a road car.
The exhaust sounds nothing like a Subaru and far more like an in-line Toyota. "Yes, we did a lot of work on that," Bates says.
The 86 racer sits flat, has great grip and brilliant brakes but retains all the feedback and enjoyment of the road car.
It still slides through corners but it's not nailed-down by full slick racing tyres. Its suspension compliance ensures the driver can feel what's happening and tickle the car to their taste.
The father of the 86, Tetsuya Tada, has a giant smile after a couple of hot laps at the wheel.
I like the car a lot. It could handle more power and a snappier feel to the engine but even F1 pilots always ask for more go. I'm having fun at my own pace, then Bates jumps behind wheel. "OK for full speed?" he asks, already knowing the answer.
So he gives it everything and I can see that the 86 racer will be challenging and rewarding in equal doses. In just over a week, 35 cars will be on the starting grid at Winton Raceway. Who will do best among the rookies and against Glenn Seton?
As for Tada, he likes the 86 racer so much that he bought Bates's first car and is having it shipped home to Japan.