The Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup North America made its debut this past weekend at Sonoma Raceway as part of SRO Motorsports America’s opening weekend with 31 cars, surpassing expectations and pleasing the racers and those behind the series as well.
“When we started, our goal was 20 cars,” said Jack Irving, executive commercial director for TRD/TGR North America. “When we laid out the vision of what this needed to be, and what we wanted it to be, the intent was to connect with grassroots racers to show the performance ability of a GR86, the GR line as a whole, but then also to connect with racers. And we thought 20 was the right number.
“When we first went to sale, we sold out in a week – we really sold out in a day, but we had to go through all the deposits. So to get to 31 cars on the grid, it’s been a tremendous success from that point of it. And to sit there like we did on Thursday and Friday, and to see them all in a line, is a pretty emotional thing to know that you got to do something pretty special, and that it’s been received by the teams as well as it has been, it’s been really, really special just to be part of that.”
Drivers and teams jumped onboard, some coming from within the SRO paddock, others from other single-make series and some teams came into existence specifically for the series. Copeland Motorsports is one team that has been running both within the SRO paddock as well as in Mazda MX-5 Cup, and driver Tyler Gonzalez, who has run in Touring Car with the team previously, was in for the ride as the team expanded to GR Cup.
“I got in line with Toyota this year, on board first with GR Cup,” said double race winner Gonzalez, who is also racing a Supra GT4 in Pirelli GT4 America with Tyler Maxson. “It’s a super-attractive series – good cars, good competitors. It showed this weekend. Great racing all year long, that’s what we’ve got to look forward to.”
Based around the Toyota GR86 road car with a full complement of racing safety equipment plus a SADEV 6-speed sequential transmission, Bosch engine management, JRI adjustable shocks, Alcon brakes, APR carbon fiber wing and more, and riding on Continental slicks, the GR Cup cars are built at Toyota Racing Development’s Mooresville, N.C. facility and sold ready to race. The 14-race series – two races each across seven weekends – is paying the top eight finishers, with the winner earning $12,000 per race and the champion earning $50,000.
Like other single-make series, GR Cup is designed to produce equal competition, letting the talent of the drivers shine. But it’s certainly not a new idea with other manufacturers paving the way at every level, from Mazda to Porsche to Lamborghini.
“We had a little bit of a cheat sheet to get to go see what everybody else has done and how well it’s worked and the way they engage, the way they connect to the grassroots racer or to the professional racer,” said Irving. “And for us, the GR lineup is big for for the American market and to promote the performance of the GR lineup. It’s a car that’s built on the racetrack, it’s learned on the racetrack. And that’s what turns into GR cars in Japan. So for us to be able to do that here is really the whole point, to connect with grassroots racers, to show the performance lineup of cars and then to engage.”
It seems that for its first attempt at a one-make racer, Toyota, TDR and GR Racing NA hit the mark. Not only did more racers than expected step up to participate, they like what they’ve experience so far.
“As far as the cars go, they’re pretty neat,” said Will Rodgers, a sports car racer who spent some time in stock cars and is making his return to road racing. Rodgers finished third in the first race, and was the Hard Charger in the second. “To come in back from big horsepower gets me back to my roots. I feel like there’s a really good balance to the car. Decent power, brakes are incredible. The tires are honestly too big for this car … there’s a lot of grip. But it does make for some interesting racing. And, man, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.”
Toyota had parts and technical support on site, as well as a hospitality area for drivers and teams. And while the focus right now is on GR Cup, Toyota sees other possibilities for the GR86 Cup car in the future.
“We want to make sure that we do right by the teams that are here now, as well as the growth teams that come in as we continue to build cars,” said Paul Doleshal, group manager, motorsports, Toyota Motor North America. “And then I’m excited to see when people start to buy the cars for other programs. There are other series that people have been discussing purchasing cars for. The limitations we’ve had have been on the commodity side trying to get parts to build them. But I’m really excited about just seeing the growth of it. It’ll be interesting when we get to places where we have more cars than grid spots.”
The GR Cup heads next to Circuit of the Americas in May, and then VIR, the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Road America, Sebring and Indianapolis Motor Speedway where it will join the Indianapolis 8 Hour on SRO Motorsports America’s finale weekend.