While there is much about the Next Gen race cars that were revealed today by NASCAR that the naked eye can’t see, there is also plenty of change that stands out to Andy Graves.
“The first thing that stands out is the 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires,” Graves, executive engineer technical director, Toyota Racing Development, told RACER. “It’s a major change, and even if we had the same Next Gen body with the current wheels and tires, it would still look better and still be in better proportion, but with the 18-inch wheels and tires, there’s definitely an element of sexy that it adds and makes it more racy, in my opinion. And gives you that more of a sports car, GTD, or GT3 type of look.
“Another thing that’s going to stand out is the hood exits. Now instead of pushing air through the water and oil and just into the engine compartment, now suddenly, that air exits out on the hood. Some of the OEMs have louvers on top of the hood; we just have a standard exit that is very similar to our Lexus RC F, so we were able to take some of our experience and some things we were doing in the GT3 world and be able to apply some of that to this Next Gen model.”
Graves and David Wilson, president of TRD, walked RACER through the difference of the Next Gen car in conjunction with the manufacturer design unveils Wednesday. Toyota will compete with the Toyota TRD Camry, the first time a TRD badge is featured on the body of a Camry and not just decals inside the car for the cameras.
One prideful aspect for Toyota is its Next Gen race car has more body styling attributes common to its production car than ever before in a Cup Series Camry.
“It might not be noticeable looking at the side of the car, but if you look from an overhead shot, the car is symmetrical left to right, which is quite a bit different from today as we have about two and a quarter, two and a half offset in the rear tail,” said Graves. “A lot of people don’t notice it, but if you look at today’s current cars and look at the styling on the left side of the car versus the right side of the car, it’s actually different to blend the tail in. This car is actually symmetrical left to right, so that was a great start for the OEMs and NASCAR to agree on some of those general parameters.”
This means the rear end of the Next Gen won’t look like a boxy stock car. OEMs were given more leeway in designing their cars, and Graves said it would be noticeable when one looks at it from the rear.
“What kind of happened is over the years, to gain an advantage everyone starting moving the tails to the right, because on ovals it creates side force to hold the car in the line that you want to run,” Graves said. “In 2013, when we started with the Gen-6 car, we backed some of that out of it, but not all of it — we wanted to keep some of the side force. But now, with a fresh sheet of paper and approach with this Next Gen philosophy, we said, ‘OK, if we’re going to try to get as much production relevance as possible, we really need to have a symmetrical car left to right.’ And with the bigger tires, and the tires are a little wider as well, we were able to reduce the side force, but we still feel like the racing is going to be great with this car.”
Everything under the skin of the Next Gen car is different, from the suspension to shocks, springs, and roll bars. Features of the Toyota TRD Camry are:
• 18-inch forged aluminum wheels
• A new transaxle will combine the transmission and rear gears into one package
• Independent rear suspension
• The bottom of the car will be sealed with an underwing and rear diffuser
• A redesigned chassis features new front and rear bumpers. Both the front and rear clips bolt on to the center sections of the vehicle
• Composite body
• Engine intake from the grille area with a new longer airbox
• Hood exits incorporated to assist with engine cooling
• 5-speed sequential shift
• Additional roll bars for driver safety
• Form-fitted foam insert between chassis and nose/tail like production cars
• Driver positioned closer to the center line of the car
• Legacy hood flaps and legacy roof flaps keep race cars on the ground at higher rates of speed
Single-source suppliers will provide the parts and pieces of Next Gen. It will leave teams with much smaller development margins to play in, and as a result, Graves believes close the gap in competition.
“It’s definitely going to be a change,” he said. “It’s going to be a change for the teams, and it’s going to be a change for the OEMs as well. For instance, with the current cars, once we had a car submitted and approved by NASCAR, then it was left up to the OEM to go and source who they want their supplier to be to build the tails and the stampings for the side and the greenhouse. It’s really unbelievable the great lengths we all take to reduce the weight. Maybe make certain panels flexible when they shouldn’t be flexible.
“But there’s a huge amount of cost and technology that goes into producing all those parts and pieces and by moving to single-source suppliers across the car, what it’s done is NASCAR has been able to say, OK, this is the thickness of the panel, this is the layup. It’s going to end up cutting costs; it’s going to end up making the parts more durable and reliable for the teams, so that’s going to save money as well. From being the technical director at TRD, there are definitely some aspects I don’t like because it takes away some of the fun on our side, but at the same time, I’m sure David Wilson will be much happier I’m not spending so much money either.”
NASCAR tested the concept of having air exiting through the hood of the car during the 2019 All-Star Race. However, Graves explained that to do so properly, “you have to start over” in the engine compartment and ductwork, and that’s why it was never incorporated into the current car.
“One other reason — which is another change (with Next Gen) as well — is currently we have a cowl at the base of the windshield that takes the air in for the engine,” Graves said. “One of the things that didn’t work so well at that All-Star event was the hot air out of the hood exits was going right into the engine. That’s why on this car, you don’t see a cowl anymore at the base of the windshield, and we take the air in for the engine right off the ductwork on the front side of the radiator and oil cooler. You can’t even see the air intake, but the air going in the front of the car is where the air for the engine is as well.”
Next Gen also brings a bit of good news for those who tend to beat up their cars. Graves acknowledged that NASCAR understood how sensitive the current vehicles are and how the slightest damage can ruin a driver’s day. Next Gen has a composite body — like teams in the Xfinity Series run — and they should be much tougher when bouncing off the wall or getting into another driver.
“The entire car is going to be composite; there’s no sheet metal on the sides,” Graves said. “With that, you’re going to be able to get into the wall a little bit more or rub your competitors a little bit more and not lose the aero advantage you have when it’s brand-new. Whereas now, you get in the wall a little bit and you’re almost done for the day because we’re all building our cars to be the absolute lightest that we can. The cars are really flimsy, and unfortunately, that creates a lot of work.”
Wilson said that plays into enabling Next Gen to make a lasting good impression. “Again, stripping away all the stuff the fans can’t see, that’s the one thing they’re going to look at and say, holy crap, that’s a damn good-looking race car.”