Test Drive Tuesay review #29: Toyota TS020 GT-One
After the end of Group C in the mid 1990’s, Toyota followed the other constructors’ move to GT1 racing, which while remaining relatively open design-wise was still somewhat linked to production cars. “Somewhat” being the key word here. Only one “production-ready” car was required, allowing for some crazy homologation specials such as the Porsche 911 GT1, the Mercedes CLK GTR or the Nissan R390. Regulations for these homologation cars were very vague: for example, Toyota argued that the standard-size suit-case that was supposed to fit in some trunk of these cars to pass homologation could as well be placed in the empty fuel tank…
Toyota made the most out of those rules: the GT-One used an upgraded version of their Group C turbocharged V8 and sported very advanced aerodynamics for the time, including a front diffuser which led to the air-flow tunnels on the side of the cars that are now common sight on prototypes, and these signature cutouts in the inside of the front wheel arches. Sadly, these cutting edge design features would prove fatal to the GT-One, as it was very fragile and could lead to partial destruction in case of tire blowout. This cost the GT-One overall victory in the 1999 Le Mans 24-hours. But the GT-One still left its mark on endurance racing, and one impressive lap record at Le Mans. In 2000 the Japanese firm concentrated its motorsport efforts on Formula 1, thus ending a promising endurance program.
At first I thought comparing this car with the Bentley Speed 8 would be a good idea. It isn’t. You see, while being bred with the same purpose in mind, and boasting similar performance figures, this car is nowhere near as fast as the Bentley. The problem being the exponential progress of aerodynamics that happened between Toyota’s 1998 effort and Bentley’s 2003 car. The GT-One simply lacks downforce, front and rear.
And that makes it quite tricky to drive. It is a very snappy car, it must be said. The rear end can come around without warning, and more importantly, without leaving you any room for correction. If you’re braking too heavily (and sometimes if you are breaking at all) into some corners, the car will spin and you won’t be able to do anything about it. This makes for a downright scary experience around Silverstone. Granted, I’m not the best driver out there, but it did take me around 150 miles to be somewhat consistent. And when I say consistent I don’t mean comfortable, or fast. Stopping that car is a really stressful experience. The brakes are not the problem; they are quite good in fact. But the overall imbalance of the car and the lack of downforce to make up for that is quite problematic and led to a lot of sweating and swearing. I had to start braking sometime 50 to 100 meters before my usual marks. Yes, Stability Control will fix that for you, but what’s the point? If you want a pleasant ride in a prototype, just go for the Bentley.
The front end isn’t exempt of issues, either: once again not much downforce means understeer at higher speeds. You have to brake and go back to fifth gear for turn 1 at Silverstone, and that’s never a good sign. That being said, being a race car you will be able to set it up at every level, and maybe make it a bit easier to drive. But I doubt that even hours of work on suspension and aero can overcome the basics issues of this car.
Yes the GT-One is iconic, and fast. Yes, it is one cool thing to own. But I don’t know why you would take that over the splendid, much faster and near-perfect Bentley. Except if you’d like the difficulty to go up a notch for the sake of it. I don’t.
To find out how it did against all the other TDT cars, follow this link to the updated TDT Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF