► Driving to 86th 24h Le Mans race
► We drove down in liveried GT86
► Backstage travelogue
Earlier this month, Toyota revealed three Le Mans-liveried GT86s, and we had the opportunity to drive one to this year’s 24-hour race. Commissioned to celebrate the the 86th running of Le Mans, each GT86 features bespoke livery.
‘The GT86 gives us a great canvas on which to pay tribute to some of the amazing Toyota race cars that have thrilled the crowds at Le Mans,’ said James Clark, Toyota GB’s press relations manager. ‘Response to our earlier retro-liveried coupes was fantastic and we hope these new cars – all strictly one-off creations – will generate the same kind of enthusiasm as we approach this year’s 24-hour race.’
Tell me about the cars
One pays tribute to the V10-powered ‘Casio’ Toyota TS010 of 1992, another to the classic TS020 GT-One of 1998, and the one we drove emulated the TS050 Hybrid – a car that failed less than five minutes away from victory in 2016.
We drove our TS050 GT86 all the way from CAR’s office in Peterborough to the Circuit de la Sarthe, covering some 500 miles in total - and we’ve included some pictures of the road trip below.
What was it like to drive the Casio Toyota GT86?
In addition to the the custom liveries, Toyota added some other tweaks to the GT86. The most obvious change has to be outrageous rear spoilers, but look more closely and you’ll see each member of the trio is also running custom alloy wheels.
It makes sense, then, that Toyota has reduced the ride-height of all three cars by 40mm, and given all three aftermarket Milltek Sport exhausts, too.
The lowered suspension transformed the general feeling of driving the Toyota. The GT86 – which is already a precision driver’s car – felt even more connected with the road than before, and when combined with the windscreen sticker graphics, you really felt like you were driving a race car.
However, the customised suspension also exposed the quality of UK roads. The GT86 transferred the smaller bumps in the road directly to our lower spines, while larger ones were somewhat cataclysmic – a few bigger potholes and undulations had us off our seats.
On the other side of the Channel, the GT86 had no such problems: on the smooth motorways down to Le Mans, the drive was altogether more relaxed. There wasn’t a great deal of drone from those Milltek exhausts, and most of our time was spent cruising, while other curious cars pulled alongside to take pictures.
When we did get on some more demanding roads, the GT86 felt like a grippier, faster version of the standard road car. While it’s unlikely the car’s huge wing was doing anything at our police-safe speeds, the GT86 we drove certainly had more mechanical grip than usual, with the stiff suspension, heavy steering and wider tyres begging you to carry ever more corner speed.
It drove like a GT86 on steroids, and although that meant it wasn’t as easy to unsettle than the production car, it was still lively and communicative.
Throw in the Milltek exhausts, and it even had the soundtrack to match its racing looks – something which we took full advantage of after every toll booth. After all, getting up to 130kmh (85mph) is a great chance to make the most out of the Toyota’s free-revving, naturally aspirated engine.
And what about the 2018 Le Mans race?
As you’d expect, the outside of the car garnered more than its fair share of attention over race weekend. Unlike the two other GT86s, the Denso car we drove had a very similar colour scheme to the contemporary car, meaning most realised the livery was affiliated with the works team.
The already electric atmosphere around the track was drawn to our car like moths to a flame. It wasn’t another Ferrari or another Porsche, and its livery – combined with the Alonso effect – meant it had attention wherever we went.
Crowds lined roads into the track, and every smartphone and camera seemed to be trained on our GT86. At one point, someone even stopped in front of the car, and waved a chequered flag.
A Toyota victory meant our car was just as popular on the way home, though one could’ve only imagined the looks we’d have got if Toyota hadn’t won.
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