Toyota will take on the notorious ‘Green Hell’ this weekend when the Toyota GAZOO Racing GR Supra rockets off the starting grid for the 2019 Nurburgring 24-hour race in Germany. With over 150 cars battling it out on the legendary 25-km track over 24 hours, the annual endurance race is a supreme test for drivers, teams and vehicles alike.
In preparation for the race, Toyota has already entered the GR Supra in two rounds of the VLN Endurance Championship at the same circuit this year. In April, it came away with a third-place class finish in the 4-hour third-round race while the second round earlier that month was cancelled shortly after the start due to heavy snow.
GR Supra chief mechanic Hideyuki Tanaka said the earlier VLN races and pre-24 hour qualifying race had enabled the team to identify various issues to address. “At those times, I felt that it is not a simple task to complete a race at Nurburgring even if is just 4 or 6 hours, to say nothing of what might happen during a 24-hour race,” he said. “Still, we will work as a united team to finish the race and I hope everyone will cheer us on with enthusiasm,” he said.
President part of the 4-driver team
Four drivers will share duties behind the wheel of the GR Supra including Masahiro Sasaki, Uwe Kleen, and Supra development drivers Herwig Daenens and Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation.
Toyoda, 63, was introduced to racing by the late Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s first master driver who was his driving mentor. Naruse, a stern coach, trained Toyoda on different tracks, including the Nurburgring until one day, he felt that his boss could take part in the famous endurance race and made the suggestion.
First race with a secondhand Yaris
However, before then, to gain confidence, Toyoda took part in races in Japan, starting with a Toyota Yaris (secondhand). He also took on a nickname – ‘Morizo’ – when he entered the race, the name being that of the mascot of the 2005 World Expo held in Aichi, Japan, which is the home prefecture of Toyota.
In the same year, Toyoda felt confident to enter the Nurburgring race and used a Lexus IS300. Two years later, when he became President, he decided to race less for safety reasons. Though having a racing CEO is a morale-booster for employees and impresses fans, the business community would worry about him going racing and getting injured in an accident, and he obviously respects their concerns.
Toyoda was inspired by his driving mentor to bring the Supra back to life and bring a new Supra back to the Nurburgring. The entry into this year’s race brings to fulfilment that wish. The GR Supra will compete in the SP8T class for turbocharged cars up to 4.0-litre engine capacity with minor modifications allowed to the production car. Toyota GAZOO Racing is hoping to add another iconic motorsport title to its trophy cabinet to sit alongside its two Le Mans wins, Dakar Rally victory and last year’s World Rally Championship.