Like all of us, Toyota’s family of pro racers are still getting used to the idea of #StayAtHome and empty, silent tracks. But racers gonna race, and throughout April a bunch of these ultra-competitive individuals, representing Toyota in everything from NASCAR’s top-tier series, to NHRA drag racing, to Formula DRIFT, ARCA, USAC, and even IMSA, courtesy of Lexus’s GTD program, will be getting it on – and talking some trash – as they challenge each other in the virtual world of Sony’s ever-popular Gran Turismo Sport racing game.
It was no April Fool’s when the likes of 2020 Daytona 500-winner Denny Hamlin, NHRA Top Fuel ace Antron Brown, Formula DRIFT champ Fredric Aasbo, and 16 other highly-competitive individuals opened their front doors last week to a stack of boxes containing Sony PlayStation 4 consoles, Playseat Evolution gaming chairs, and Thrustmaster T300 RS GT steering wheels and pedals. Set ’em up, load up Gran Turismo Sport and get ready to race…
The group includes some of Toyota’s up-and-coming driver talents, as well as several of its established stars, and even puts NASCAR TV personality Rutledge Wood and BMX vert legend Jamie Bestwick into the mix. Starting this week, they’ll challenge one another in a series of one-lap, head-to-head throwdowns at the wheel of Gran Turismo’s Toyota GR Supra RZ. With identical kit and identical cars, it’s a level playing field for everyone, so bring it on, and may the best racer win.
Are the NASCAR drivers’ road-racing chops all they’ve cracked up to be? Can the drift guys lose the sideways and make a fight of it? How does the NHRA contingent switch from reacting to 300mph-plus wriggles, to hitting every apex? We’re about to find out…
NHRA Top Fueler Brown has been a competitor his entire life. The three-time TF champ raced motocross in his teen years, concentrated on track and field during his time at college, then made a name for himself in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle, before switching to 10,000hp, nitro-fueled dragsters in 2008. Gaming’s not been big on his radar until now, but while he’s looking forward to having some fun and taking a timeout from current realities (his wife’s family in Louisiana has had members come down with COVID-19, but thankfully all are recovering well), his natural competitiveness means he’ll be wearing his game face while doing it.
“You know what, we’re all racers and none of us likes to lose, so this is going to be intense,” he says. “And it’s not going to be a done deal for the NASCAR guys. Watch out for Aasbo and Ken Gushi – those drifters have amazing car control – but don’t count the NHRA guys out, either. Shawn Langdon and J.R.Todd are gamers and they can drive.
Rutledge Wood, along with BMX bandit Bestwick, throws a wild card into the mix. He’s happy to get a chance to connect with the people he routinely sees at the track, and he loves that race fans can follow along and interact on social media, but don’t expect him to be taking down too many of the pros…
“I was lucky enough that Toyota wanted me to be a part of this,” he says. “They sent me this really cool rig, and then I realized that all my friends who race for Toyota are going to stomp me into the ground…”
Jesse Love, one of the up-and-coming talents taking on Toyota’s established aces, is still adapting to his stay-at-home reality, but looking forward to some virtual action.
“It’s not fun to be cooped up like this, but it has to be done and we have to follow the guidelines,” says the 15-year-old short-track phenom, who should have been in the thick of his first season of ARCA Menard’s Series West competition. “But my dream car right now is the Toyota Supra, so I’m super excited to be a part of this, and if it helps to keep me sharp for when we do go back to racing, so much the better.”
Across the wide diversity of racers involved in the challenge, the range of gaming backgrounds and experience varies greatly. For 18-year-old Holley Hollan, who’ll drive for Bill McAnally Racing in the ARCA Menards West Series, video gaming, TV binge watching, or sitting still in general, have never been top of her to-do list. But she’s looking forward to a new challenge that will help keep her competitive edge sharp.
“This is actually the first video game I’ve ever owned. I’ve already tried some laps and it’s really cool,” says Hollan. “I don’t iRace or anything like that, although I do use the simulator at Toyota. But this will be a totally different experience and the best part will be getting to compete head to head against my other Toyota Racing teammates. Racing against people you know is always more fun.”
At the other end of the gaming experience scale is Christian Eckes, who drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
“I’ve been hanging out here at home going on runs and trying to stay in shape the best I can,” says Eckes, before confiding, “I’ve also been playing a lot of video games –probably an unhealthy amount…”
As an avid and long-time gamer, Eckes is no stranger to competing in the virtual world. He was an early adopter of iRacing and has also spent a lot of time on Toyota Racing’s simulator in North Carolina.
“This is going to be a fun time seeing who’s best on this deal. Hopefully I can show them a thing or two,” he adds, noting that he’s got an eye on Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst as two others to watch.
When all those boxes landed on doorsteps and porches, nobody was more eager than Fredric Aasbo to unpack his kit and get it set up. He was immediately on it, laying down fast times and letting his competitive nature come to the fore.
“Luckily, my girlfriend is a racer, too, otherwise this stay at home deal could get old extra fast,” he says with a laugh. “She knows what I’m like. When Toyota told me about this challenge, I had to be ready for it. We’re all racers, and we all want to win. I can’t wait to get started.”
You can follow the participating drivers on their own social media channels (see below), as well as @ToyotaRacing. And stay tuned for updates on RACER.com and our social channels, too.
|DRIVER (SERIES)||TWITTER/INSTAGRAM HANDLES|
|Denny Hamlin (NASCAR Cup)||@dennyhamlin / @DennyHamlin|
|Daniel Suarez (NASCAR Cup)||@Daniel_SuarezG / @Daniel_SuarezG|
|Rutledge Wood (Our fave TV dude)||@RutledgeWood / @rutledgewood|
|Antron Brown (NHRA Top Fuel)||@AntronBrown / @AntronBrownTF|
|J.R. Todd (NHRA Funny Car)||@JRTodd373 / @J_R_Todd|
|Shawn Langdon (NHRA Top Fuel)||@ShawnLangdon333 / @ShawnLangdon333|
|Harrison Burton (NASCAR Xfinity)||@HBurtonRacing / @harrisonburton12|
|Riley Herbst (NASCAR Xfinity)||@RileyHerbst / @rileyherbst|
|Brandon Jones (NASCAR Xfinity)||@BrandonJonesRac / @BrandonJonesRac|
|Ken Gushi (Formula DRIFT)||@kengushi / @kengushi|
|Fredric Aasbo (Formula DRIFT)||@FredricAasbo / @fredricaasbo|
|Derek Kraus (NASCAR Trucks)||@derek9kraus / @derek9kraus|
|Christian Eckes (NASCAR Trucks)||@christianeckes / @christianeckes|
|Chandler Smith (NASCAR Trucks/ARCA)||@CSmithDrive / @csmithracing26|
|Jesse Love (ARCA)||@jesselovejr1 / @jesselovejr|
|Holley Hollan (ARCA/USAC)||@Holley_Hollan / @Holley_Hollan|
|Max McLaughlin (ARCA/USAC)||@MaxMcLaughlin_ / @MaxMcLaughlin_|
|Jack Hawksworth (IMSA GTD)||@jackhawkrace / @jackhawkrace|
|Jamie Bestwick (BMX legend)||@jamiebestwick / @jamiebestwick|
- The GR Supra GT Cup Series is back for a second season in 2020, and the first races will kick off in late April. The competition is an official Toyota e-Motorsports activity presented by TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and is open to owners of PlayStation4 consoles and the Gran Turismo Sport game. Like last year, the GR Supra GT Cup will use Gran Turismo Sport’s Toyota GR Supra RZ, and will feature an online series comprised of seven rounds, beginning April 26 at Fuji Speedway. The top ranked players will take part in a live final in November to determine the series champion.
Find out more HERE.