Our love for the Toyota 86 is well documented. Driving the RWD rockstar was the top highlight in 2012 for both me and colleague Anthony, impressing us enough to be placed No.1 in our inaugural paultan.org Top Five cars list. On that fun day out, the 86 revealed its true identity as the heir to the drift icon that is the AE86, no impostors in the house.
The 86 delighted us with its perfect, race car-like seating position, steering that is feelsome and natural, its lightness and eagerness to change direction, and the control its throttle wields over the car’s cornering angle. Oh, and of course, its willingness as a sideways dance partner when the itch surfaces.
More of the same on track? Not quite, as yours truly discovered another side of the 86 at a trackday.
We recently attended a trackday by Racing Club 86 as guests of UMW Toyota. Racing Club 86 is a private entity run by a Singapore-registered company making Sepang International Circuit its home, and is not affilated to Toyota Motor Corp or UMW Toyota. They own and maintain a fleet of Toyota 86 race cars and have designed a full day hospitality programme around the 86 on Sepang experience.
They are new to this (the cars were track virgins with less than 100 km on the clock) so the programme wasn’t as slick as BMW Driver Training or Porsche’s trackdays (I would have preferred more structure, more guidance), but those seeking maximum track time and value for money will leave the track with a big grin.
I probably had more laps on Sepang that day than all previous sessions throughout the years combined! 30 minutes of non stop, all out driving, followed by a 30-minute break, before the process repeats itself.
Best part is we effectively got to race each other, as there was no instruction to not overtake slower cars. In the timed session, of which I wasted a few laps “racing” a fellow journo, I managed a best of 2:49.6. Can do better.
Our chariots were basically standard manual transmission Toyota 86 cars with all non-essentials (including air con) stripped off before race essentials like a roll cage, racing seats with harness, fire extinguisher and diff cooler are added. Also included are competition tyres (Toyo Proxes R888) upgraded brakes and racing fuel. Standard boxer engine, standard 6 M/T gearbox.
After a light breakfast, we were given race suits to change into before briefing commenced, and each participant was assigned a car for the day – mine is the orange No.10 you see darting around in the videos – so if you bin it, that’s it! Our instructors for the day were Super GT drivers Morio Nitta (drove for Proton in last year’s Sepang 1,000 km) and Naoya Yamano, who were in town for Round 3 of the 2013 Super GT series.
The agenda may have listed sessions for proper driving posture, track familiarisation, braking techniques and turn-in techniques, but there was very little classroom time, and most of the learning happened in the car, where we observed the instructors doing their thing from the passenger seat. Nitta was the chattier of the two sifus, but the language barrier was hard to break down.
So we eventually followed the instructors’ no mechanical sympathy style, which was to drive as hard as possible and lean on the 86’s VSC Sport mode. This isn’t the most natural thing to do, as it goes against the habit of smooth driving and a measured approach.
To see the orange VSC light flashing incessantly usually means that one is driving too hard and getting ragged, but I had to forget this for just one day. Ignore the nagging power cuts and press on, gotta keep up with the pack!
On the road, we found VSC Sport to be preferable for fast road driving, as it has a higher threshold than the default mode, allowing some rear end slip before throwing out a net should things get too lairy. On track, and in full attack, we can confidently say that VSC Sport is infallible – you can still crash of course, but you would have to be a really bad driver to do so. Extreme provocation was needed to unsettle the car or get it really sideways.
Our track cars had amazing brakes. The original plan was to stand on the brakes at the 100 m mark on the two long straights (my main straight max speed was around 190 km/h), but we soon realised that doing so would leave quite a bit of spare room before the turn. Each lap was a chance to brake later, and by the end of the day, we were stomping on the pedal closer to the 50 m mark. No fading, too.
The stopping power is very impressive, and I suspect a lot of it is to do with the 86’s weight, or rather the lack of – 1,275 kg for the M/T car before the stripping process. Because this is not a heavily modified race car, many of the standard road car’s qualities are present, some in amplified fashion.
The steering is light and brilliantly communicative (I like the physical wheel’s relatively thin rim and angle), and there’s very little inertia when changing direction. Like the previous orange 86 I drove, No.10 gave its driver the option to steer by throttle as well. Without insulation and trim, the exhaust note is noticeably louder than on the road car.
The boxer engine is a workhorse that needs to be worked hard to squeeze out every drop of its 200 hp, but there’s great joy in revving a naturally aspirated motor till redline (7,500 rpm here) especially on track. 200 hp is not a lot these days, and the 86 doesn’t feel very fast on Sepang but then again, very few cars do – this circuit was made for Formula 1. I was having too much fun to observe the speedo, anyway.
A big contributing fun factor was the privilege to row our own gears, something we’ve never tried before in the 86 as UMW Toyota’s test car was an automatic. Not the most satisfying shift feel in town if we were to nitpick, but we should all just be thankful and enjoy the good ol’ manual before the world gets taken over by those dual-clutch things. Sorry auto, but this is the gearbox that makes the 86 complete.
Oh, and if you must know, all the cars survived the full day of repeated pounding and nothing broke.
To sum it up, the trackday served up a buffet of laps and smiles, a feel of “endurance racing” for this amateur, plus the obligatory aching limbs the following day. With the “ram it home” approach, I didn’t learn many new things though, certainly not the finer points of car control or how to be a more skillful driver.
I also did not learn about how the Toyota 86 is a great sportscar and an amazing piece of kit for the enthusiast – we already know that, and the track day simply reinforced the fact. Toyota calls the experience waku-doki, we call it FUN!