From Toyota’s Derbyshire factory via a Buckinghamshire race-preparation workshop to a race circuit near you… The Avensis BTCC racers are on track to make a big impression in the motorsporting world in 2011, and the race is on to ready them for the start of the season.
We visited GPR Motorsport’s impressive new technical facility to check on the progress of the cars which Tony Hughes and Frank Wrathall will race in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this season, and came away more than enthused about their prospects.
The Avensis ‘Next Generation Touring Car’ made its maiden public appearance in October, running demonstration laps at Brands Hatch. Since then, GPRM’s directors Gary Blackham and Roger King – both of whom have enjoyed long and impressive touring car engineering careers – have honed the prototype to the point where in recent track tests it has set promising lap times.
“So far we have done only component proving work, which involves the test drivers pounding around for hours at a time at a reasonable pace,” says Gary. “But despite the fact that we have not done any performance-related work at all, we are more than pleased with the pace of the Avensis. It’s not far off the mark.”
So far the car has run at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire and at Brands Hatch in the hands of test drivers Matt Griffin and Kelvin Burt, as well as enduring many punishing hours on a test rig and fine-tuning in the MIRA windtunnel. “The Avensis has performed very well. We have had no major issues with the car, and the one or two smaller issues which have arisen we have dealt with successfully…”
On the workshop floor the prototype Avensis NGTC car is being fettled for further testing at Thruxton, the quickest and most mechanically punishing circuit on the BTCC calendar. Beside it sit a pair of painted Toyota bodyshells – a predominantly white one, which is the Hughes Motorsport/Speedworks car to be raced by Tony Hughes, and an orange machine which will be Frank Wrathall’s Dynojet Racing entry.
Neither man has yet been able to drive his Toyota. Several key components from outside suppliers are needed before everything can be bolted together and the beasts can take on life. “If all the parts were here now, we could finish the cars in a couple of days,” says Blackham. “But the components we need have to be right and must be tested properly before they are fitted, otherwise more time will be wasted later.”
Wrathall’s car will differ from Hughes’s in an important respect: it will be fitted with a 2.0-litre turbocharged power unit adapted from a road-going Toyota engine to provide 300-plus bhp. The new unit is currently under development by the specialists at X CTech R and will offer weight and power advantages over the ‘spec’ TOCA engine to be fitted to the Hughes Avensis.
The cars in progress look skeletal: that’s not only because they are stripped back to the bare minimum to save as much weight as possible but also because large sections of the drivetrain and suspension are developed and assembled separately, and then bolted into place in the final stages. All the hard, time-consuming chassis work, like reinforcing seam welds, cutting out weighty sections of unnecessary bodywork, and filling in redundant apertures, has long since been completed.
The kernel of the Next Generation Touring Car idea is that the large, important and costly sections of the racing car – like the front and rear suspension sub-frames, the gearbox, braking system and electronics – will be common to all, whether the car is outwardly a Toyota or from another manufacturer. And commonality makes for economy of scale and, it is hoped, better and closer racing.
Championship organiser TOCA is the driving force behind NGTC, and its efforts have been rewarded not only by significant interest from privateer racers such as Hughes and Wrathall but also from touring car series around the world. The Scandinavian Touring Car Championship is the latest to embrace the concept.
The opening rounds of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship take place at Brands Hatch on 3 April at Brands Hatch – you can buy tickets here – with all the action live on ITV4.