► CAR's Le Mans hot lap
► In the all-new Toyota Supra
► What does it feel like on track?
Tertre Rouge, Arnage, Porsche Curves – they’re as beautiful to say as you imagine they must be to race (perhaps at sunrise, your heavily bug-smeared car running kerb to kerb to kerb with practised grace as you power on towards 3pm Sunday and a win in the world’s most important motor race). But imagine is all we can do. Only a select few will ever know what that feels like.
Watch our lap around Le Mans below
We have now at least had a snapshot – not in a race car, granted. And not in the race itself. Instead, hours before the start of Le Mans 2019, we had the full 8.5-mile circuit to ourselves. A dozen Supras, one of them with us in it, gamely trying to work out when to turn left and right while chasing a Porsche 911 Turbo Safety Car. Quite a privilege, then, and you wonder how Toyota ever wangled it. I guess being the last manufacturer standing in the headlining LMP1 prototype must have its perks.
Our Toyota Supra review
It’s 7am Saturday, and a perfect June morning bathes Circuit de la Sarthe in caramel-warm dawn sun. Silly helmet on, the lightest of drivers’ briefings – ‘Don’t hit the wall, don’t to hit each other, you will not overtake me’ – and we’re off, our right-hand-drive black Supra powering through the last chicane and up towards the Dunlop Curves.
Some have moaned about the Toyota’s BMW-derived powertrain, about how there should be a hairy Toyota six under the hood and that a manual ’box should be optional, but right now the engine and eight-speed paddleshift auto feel just about perfect; potent, crisply responsive and with enough grunt to offer the choice of at least two gears for any given corner. On the road, there’s meaningful drive from just 2000rpm. But here, on a track comprised of endless straights and with a gaggle of other Supras to chase, we’re wringing the engine to the redline, shifts smart and fast in Sport mode, the speed the Supra soon piles on feeling just the right side of insane on an unfamiliar track.
The run downhill from the Dunlop Cures towards the Esses gives a sense of Supra’s fabulous front end (as do the two chicanes on the Mulsanne). The way it faithfully tucks in and appears immune to bodyroll calls to mind the smaller, lighter but tangibly related GT86. Clearly I can lean on the car a whole lot harder than I am. So I do so, and pass a yolk-yellow Supra before Tertre Rouge for a good, unobstructed run up the Mulsanne.
2019's Le Mans 24h event in 24 pictures
Here I should be feverishly drafting a car ahead but there isn’t one, so I make a few quick mental notes. Ugly steering wheel but I love the slim, tactile rim. Perfect seats offset a cramped cockpit. Yes it’s all very BMW in here – switchgear, iDrive infotainment – but I love iDrive, so I’m not moaning. Bespoke Toyota stuff and a £60k pricetag? (Supra is priced from £52,695). No thanks.
Last night, on Gran Turismo Sport in Toyota hospitality, I had a huge off at Indianapolis. I don’t fancy doing so now, and having to stand in front of a furious dressing-down from the infamously humour-free ACO. So we’re pretty steady, revelling again in the Toyota’s faithful resistance to understeer, decent brakes and enviable agility, the car changing direction effortlessly thanks, you have to assume, to its sawn-off wheelbase.
On the early, pre-production drive in Spain last year I wondered out loud if the Supra’s racy wheelbase/track width relationship might translate into twitchiness, but there’s no sign of it here. You just get the good stuff, the car rotating so effortlessly when you dial in steering that you wonder why you aren’t carrying at least another 30mph. Good brakes too – not brick-wall like a set of ceramics but the Supra’s Cayman S money, not a 911 GT2 RS rival.
We’re nearly there and still in one piece as the Porsche Curves loom. The best part of the lap but a silly place to be trying to go faster than you’re really qualified to go. Still, feeding the Supra through the ultra-quick combination feels amazing, the car’s locked-down body control in Sport (normal’s incredibly pliant on the road, making a mini-GT of the Toyota) lending big confidence.
And then it’s over. Slow down, breathe deep and try to savour the moment. No lap records but a hell of an experience in one hell of a sports car.
Check out our Toyota reviews