With time winding down before Christmas, DSC’s deputy editor headed over to continental Europe on a road trip. Toyota’s new GR Supra Pro was the vehicle, and TMG’s headquarters in Cologne was the destination.
While in Germany, DSC was able to see the Supra’s track-only GT4 counterpart in build and spend extended periods of time some of the key personnel in both customer and factory motorsport.
This multi-part feature, DSC At TMG, documents the entire journey, from the road trip from Sussex to Cologne, to the tour of the TMG facility and beyond.
We’ll start in Part 1 with a look at the Supra road car, because one of the main purposes of this excursion was to get a better idea of how the new Supra stacks up as both a model for the road and customer racing.
It didn’t take DSC’s deputy editor long to realise that the new Toyota GR Supra is the perfect platform for a GT4 car.
At first glance, the (Lightning Yellow!) GR Supra Pro can seem intimidating. A sleek but aggressive looking sportscar, you can tell it packs a punch before it turns a wheel.
However, you shouldn’t be afraid. The 350-mile route DSC took the factory showcased the Supra’s versatility. It featured country roads, inner-city areas, high-speed autobahns in both day and night, and in wet and dry weather.
Powered by a 6 cylinder in-line turbo engine, the GR Supra packs 335 brake horse power and is capable of going from 0-62 in 4.3 seconds. But those stats mean little during road use if the feel behind the wheel isn’t spot on. Thankfully, it exceeds all expectations in that area and can provide the driver with thrills in even the most nonchalant of scenarios.
The power delivery is sublime. The 8-speed automatic gearbox is more than capable of keeping up with any sudden changes in pace, particularly when tested through country lanes. This package is in its element through narrow passes and twisty sequences. Along with its impressive traction and stability under braking, its consistent level of grip gives the driver confidence – even in heavy rain – and the responsiveness of the steering exacerbates the enjoyment-factor.
When pushed, it becomes a louder and more violent experience. The engine note from the straight-six quickly transitions from sounding strangled to unleashed. That is when this car is in its element, and it doesn’t take much time to feel at ease with its capabilities, which significantly exceed the limits of road-use.
But the new Supra also excels in its ability to adapt. Not only is it a joy to drive when blasting through quiet sections of motorway or slaloming through unpredictable chunks of countryside; it can handle day-to-day usage too. It’s comfortable for both driver and passenger, with plenty of cockpit space and functionality; even on the most abrasive or bumpy road surfaces the ride remains smooth. The boot too can swallow a suitable amount of luggage for a lengthy trip.
It’s only real weakness is its visibility levels, specifically when glancing through the passenger-side window and attempting to track a car passing its left-rear blind spot. The tech packed into the Supra can counteract this though; the amber lights on both side mirrors that flash when cars pass along both sides are invaluable once you adapt.
Ready to race?
Looking at it from a racing perspective, the GR Supra looks and feels like a textbook GT4 car. It is a sporty road-going car that isn’t too dependent on aero or raw power. It’s neither a low-cost thrill, nor an eye-wateringly expensive world-beater. It hits the exact sweet-spot which GT4 as a formula has in recent years.
And it’s not just this writer that feels that way. Toyota’s motorsport division knew instantly too that this model was a perfect fit for a GT4 customer programme, in addition to it forming part of Toyota’s global racing range. The Supra is now the platform used for GT500 in Super GT and now, for the first time, in NASCAR as the brand’s Xfinity Series challenger, and will be for years to come.
“I think the road car is is definitely a very good base for racing activity,” Emanuelle Batisti, the head of Toyota customer motorsport told DSC. “And at some point, our mother company TMC asked us what kind of racing we could do with this type of platform and car. We evaluated the market, what were the upcoming championships and we saw that GT4 was the best fit for this type of car and I think is going to be.
“GT4 is a very good platform because is at the lower level in terms of affordability compared to GT3. GT3 is a market which is in a way quite expensive and accessible only to a certain amount of customers. In GT4 there are more potential customers and the market is growing still. It has been growing for the past few years but I really don’t see a dip because it’s expanding everywhere in the world.”
When the Supra was first shown off as a GT car, back at Geneva last year, it was a concept (which went on to feature in the video game GT Sport). It was “based mainly on GTE regulations” and with LMP1 and Le Mans Hypercar remaining to be Toyota’s chosen formulae for works racing, it never raced. But out of it, the GT4 model was born.
In GT4 there are more potential customers and the market is growing still
The GT4 has been in development since 2018. It’s been put to the test at a variety of circuits, most recently Jarama (as DSC spotted the Jarama track map in the cockpit of the current test car) and has fared well in terms of reliability and performance.
“Of course in any projects there are ups and downs but I think we are quite happy with what we have done,” Batisti said. “We started in VLN testing some component and now we have finished all the other testing of the components. So the base car itself is already a very good base for GT4 so everything is quite good. And we are happy with the results.”
“GT4 is restrictive in what you can change from the base car so what you are seeing mainly is different bodywork when compared to the concept car.”
The car made its debut in 2018 at VLN, it was a meeting that went smoothly. Then, earlier this year the car returned to the Nürburgring for VLN 2 and 3 and the 24 Hours. “We finished second in the class and didn’t have a single problem,” Batisti points out. “The base car and the modifications we’d done were already working well.”
Right now Toyota isn’t willing to share how many Supra GT4s it hopes to sell in Year 1. It has seen a spike in interest since its performances at the ‘Ring, though there is no word yet on how many, if any, have been sold.
What we do know, is that initially its plan is to sell cars into Europe, before working on setting up customer bases in both Asia and North America later in 2020. Asia of course is a key market for Toyota, and it’s still yet to fully mature when it comes to GT4 racing.
“GT4 is picking up more and more in different championships in Japan, in Malaysia and so on,” Batisti said. “I think having us pushing for those markets will only help us manufacturers to sell more cars there.”
Whether they receive five or 55 orders, TMG, rightly, is confident that with its facility in Cologne it can supply any levels of demand and provide world-leading customer support.
We have the best facility you could ever want as an engineer to develop a product
“As an engineer, I would say that this (facility in Cologne) is the best playground you could ever imagine because you’ve got everything inside the facility, from wind tunnels, to composites, to a CNC fabrication workshop, we can do everything in-house. In my experience we have the best facility you could ever want as an engineer to develop a product.”
When DSC was shown the workshop dedicated to building and servicing the GR Supra GT4 in TMG HQ, two were in build. One was stripped down almost to the bare chassis (and therefore not available for a picture), while the other was undergoing a rebuild after a test (above and below).
There is a third car currently inside the castle walls too, which wasn’t receiving any attention when DSC was present and instead was tucked away in the bowels of the building.
This one, a show car, was spotted (below, right) sitting next to an R3-spec GT86, and in front of a camouflaged development race car (out of shot) which was astonishing, but unfortunately not yet suitable for public consumption.
TMG’s Cologne headquarters is somewhat of an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ for motorsport enthusiasts. It’s a maze and seemingly every time you turn a corner there’s another wacky, priceless, top secret car or a developmental/experimental component that the public don’t yet know about or haven’t seen in a long time.
Seeing and hearing about Toyota’s customer racing programme was the first segment of the tour. And it’s clear that Toyota’s GT4 plans are ambitious. It will not be easy to enter the rapidly growing GT4 marketplace up against a slew of marques that have been building up their reputations for years now. But if anyone can make a sizeable impact quickly, it’s Toyota.
Would it surprise this writer to see the Supra GT4 become a smash it? Not in the slightest…