The 2022 NASCAR season will undoubtedly be a monumental one with the launch of the Next Gen race car. For David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, the significance is heightened by the opportunities the new car offers that carry well beyond next season, from both a competition and commercial standpoint.
“This is about building a platform that’s going to service our sport for well over the next decade, and that’s what’s really most important,” Wilson (pictured above) told RACER. “It’s building a sustainable model that will ultimately benefit all of the stakeholders within the sport — the teams, the OEMs, broadcast partners, track partners.”
Features on the car include 18-inch forged aluminum wheels (with a single lug wheel), independent rear suspension, composite body and engine cooling through openings on the hood — and that is just scratching the surface. However, what Next Gen is really about is fixing the NASCAR business model. Wilson says every decision about the car was made with the aim of aiding team owners to build healthier businesses.
“The simple ways the cars are built and the resources required to build the cars is vastly different,” Wilson said. “The car we race today, the teams bring raw tubing in one door and a little bit of sheet metal, and out of the other door comes a race car, and they build everything else in between. They have a massive fabrication department that builds the uprights and parts too countless to name. We’re going from that model to one where fabrication departments will be a thing of the past. You’re going procure your car, the chassis, the uprights, the suspension pieces from single-source suppliers that were vetted extremely by NASCAR and the teams, and by taking those pieces to a single-source supplier, you bring down the cost.
“The nature of having common or standardized parts is the teams aren’t going to be allowed to alter them. The reality is that brings down the cost of racing. And this isn’t new; this is actually very similar to the way IndyCar goes racing. Those chassis are provided by a single source, and the teams assemble them and take them racing. So, I think one of the biggest material savings every team is going to realize is just the construction of the car that they race.”
Wilson revealed teams would be capped in terms of car inventory, “because left to our own devices we would buy 10 chassis and measure to a micro-level every single (thing) … and throw out eight because the rigidity or whatever. That’s just what we do. We can’t do that, and NASCAR is protecting ourselves from ourselves. So that’s a piece of it.
“You get to the racetrack and we’re not running five-lug wheels, it’s a single-lug nut wheel, so the requirement to deliver sub-12-second pit stops and the cost associated with the athletes required to do that, it’s not completely removed but it’s impacted with, again, cost in mind.
“That’s just a handful of the low-hanging fruit, once you get over the burden of change,” Wilson continued. “No one is shying away from the fact we’re obsoleting millions of dollars of race cars and having to replace that inventory. That is a front-loaded cost, and the first year there’s likely to be some change required, some refinement required, there’s going to be a cost associated with that. So certainly, we’re all looking at it, as an industry, not to 2022 but over the first three to five years a significant material net savings versus how we race and what we race today.”
For Wilson and Toyota, it has been quite emotional getting to this point and seeing their car come to life. After two years in development, it was a significant milestone when the Toyota TRD Camry hit the track for the first time at a test at Martinsville Speedway last month. Today’s official unveiling signifies a point of no return, and now things will pick up steam with teams beginning to order parts and pieces and the testing schedule ramping up.
“It’s getting real,” said Wilson.
Since the announcement of Next Gen, the hype has been plentiful and the expectations high. At the end of the day, NASCAR wants the competition to be close and the sport healthy. For the competitors, that means they must balance wanting what’s good for the sport against their competitiveness of separating themselves from the rest of the garage.
Toyota struggled with that in the early days of the Next Gen project. In fact, the manufacturer pushed back on a lot of things. With the new car, the margins they get to play in, develop and innovate are smaller. It will make Toyota have to reset its thinking to working in tighter areas.
“That’s just part of our culture; it’s part of our commitment towards continuous improvement,” said Wilson. “The root of this is we all accepted that how we race today, the car we race today, is not sustainable and it’s put our sport at risk. We needed to bring a car to the track that was revolutionary, and that addressed this business model that is broken. And we all needed to set aside our selfish agendas — ourselves included — and embrace the belief that what we’re going to have is a healthier sport.
“We’re going to have interest from outside the sport with new teams; we’re going to have interest from other manufacturers, and ultimately for Toyota, that is a big win. All of those are much bigger wins than whether or not TRD can play and develop parts and pieces.”
If there is one constant in NASCAR, it’s that no matter what changes officials have made through the years, the quality teams consistently rise to the top. Next Gen likely won’t change that, but if it is successful in its aims, it will still change the course of NASCAR.
“What’s going to be fun is understanding and learning about those areas where we can differentiate ourselves from the competition,” Wilson said. “Fundamentally, I think areas like setup, the suspension, while the parts are standardized there’s still adjustability in the setups, and so that’s going to be critical. Simulation used to model the setups before you get to the racetrack; (that’s) hypercritical, and that’s something right in our wheelhouse. Race strategy and gaming science, I think, is just a whole other vast area that I find just absolutely fascinating and an area of science that doesn’t just apply to motorsports. Stick and ball are well into it.
“Last but not least, our drivers — their importance, their skill level, their adaptability to this new car and all of the road courses — I think are going to be more important than ever. And in my book, that’s as it should be. What we love about our sport is the drivers are our stars, and I believe that with this car, with this business model, that’s never going to more apparent and more important.”