On March 23, Toyota Times Athletes Now returned to regular programming after the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 with a special feature on the Super Taikyu Series which kicked off the previous weekend. Host Kyonosuke Morita ventured into the pits to discover the drivers’ ambitions and key developments to watch this season.
Two cars taking on the Super Taikyu ST-Q class
Super Taikyu, Japan’s top endurance racing series, has seven rounds scheduled this year. Teams will field cars based on production models classified by engine size and modifications, but one noteworthy category in particular is the ST-Q class for in-development manufacturer cars.
Toyota has two ORC ROOKIE Racing cars competing in the ST-Q class. The hydrogen-powered Corolla Sport is back this year, alongside a new GR86 running on a synthetic fuel derived from biomass. Both vehicles contribute to developing technology for a carbon-neutral future.
Morita delivered his Toyota Times Athletes Now report from Round 1 at Suzuka Circuit. He took viewers right into the action by speaking to drivers in the pits, where an unexpected figure popped into frame. Back in the studio, Morita shared memorable words from each of the team’s drivers as he previewed the season ahead.
4 drivers are taking the wheel of the hydrogen-powered Corolla for its second-year challenge
Having run four races since debuting last May, the hydrogen-powered Corolla (#32) is set for further evolution in 2022. The team’s focus is now on improving driving range while keeping other elements of driving performance honed over the last season.
The car’s four drivers are categorized A to D. A driver Masahiro Sasaki is the team’s uncompromising ace, known for having very particular tastes, right down to customizing his own car.
The B driver is President Akio Toyoda, aka Morizo, who moved up from C driver last year after working hard to hone his speed. Entrusted as the team’s time attack driver for the qualifiers, for this race Morizo followed advice from Sasaki to shave time off his best lap.
Current C driver Hiroaki Ishiura was the Super Formula champion in 2015 and 2017. At 40, he is the team’s youngest member. The D spot is filled by Yasuhiro Ogura, president of Japanese auto-parts maker Ogura Clutch and Morizo’s racetrack archrival.
GR86 takes on the competition with a carbon-neutral fuel
Team Manager Tatsuya Kataoka introduced the GR86 (#28), which joins the competition this year, and its drivers. The car runs on a carbon-neutral fuel estimated to have net-zero CO2 emissions.
The GR86’s four drivers are a unique bunch. A driver Naoya Gamou is a man of few words, with a solid track record and fine-tuned driving ability. Then there’s B driver Daisuke Toyoda. “There's a slight mismatch in how professional drivers and Toyota's vehicle assessment drivers communicate their feedback,” he says, “It might sound presumptuous, but I see my role partly as that of an interpreter, helping them understand each other.”
Meanwhile, C driver Kazuya Oshima seeks to “provide the team with accurate feedback even with my short driving time.” Rounding out the roster is D driver Ryuta Ukai, a Toyota employee who usually spends his days evaluating vehicles from the user’s perspective.
A familiar face behind the wheel of the rival team
The GR86 has a rival-–the #61 Subaru BRZ driven by Team SDA Engineering. While both run on carbon-neutral fuels, the #61 Subaru BRZ features the production model’s 2.4L naturally aspirated engine, whereas the GR86 has been equipped with a 1.4L turbo engine. The result is a head-to-head showdown to determine the superior engine and car. Morita also managed to sneak his camera into the rival pit area.
The BRZ is driven by reigning Super GT GT300 class champions Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi, along with Subaru staff driver Koichi Hirota. Iguchi, who until last year had driven for ROOKIE Racing in the Super Taikyu, revealed the spirit of their rivalry with the GR86: “By pushing each other to improve, we end up creating better cars. That, in turn, makes for a brighter future, which is why this challenge is so exciting.”
“Our aim is to make this Subaru BRZ a great car and take Morizo for a spin later in the season,” added Iguchi. Morizo appeared delighted with the comment.
Kicking off with a hard-fought 2nd & 5th at Suzuka
Suzuka’s 5-hour endurance race finished with the GR86 in second and BRZ in third in the STQ category. Both cars completed 115 laps, with just 63 seconds separating them at the end of the heated battle. In post-race interviews, drivers from both teams praised the other side for putting up a good fight.
“To have these two cars competing in the same category is very exciting,” said Daisuke Toyoda. “It reminded me what motorsport is about. If this can also help speed up the development of carbon-neutral technology, so much the better.”
Meanwhile the hydrogen-powered Corolla placed 5th with 97 laps–-seven more than last September’s outing at Suzuka. How far will the car’s range improve before it returns to Suzuka for the 5-hour race in November?
“The driving felt better with each lap,” reflected Morizo. “Compared to last year's first 24-hour race, now we’re really racing.” To which Sasaki added, “Morizo is progressing so fast, both we and the car have to improve.”
In June, the Fuji 24-hour race awaits
Super Taikyu’s next round will be the season’s 24-hour race, held at Fuji Speedway from June 3 to 5. A year on from its debut, how far has the hydrogen-powered Corolla evolved? How will the showdown between the GR86 and its rival unfold? And will Toyota Times Athletes Now be able to pull off the marathon 24-hour coverage? Tune in to find out.