INSIGHT | Behind the scenes at the TMG GT86 Cup

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

“The Nordschleife keeps you focused the whole time. If you aren’t, the race is over.”
 
Think that track racing is only reserved for the elite and super rich? Well think again, it may be more accessible than you think! Autolifers were invited along to experience the GT86 Cup hosted by Toyota Motorsports GmbH (TMG) and gained an exclusive insight into the increasingly popular one make series which is held at the infamous Nurburgring…

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Since the release of the GT86/BRZ twins, there’s no denying that it has taken the car enthusiast world by storm. The back to basics sports car has proven itself as a super platform for modification and track day enthusiasts. Building upon the capabilities of the car, TMG have released a ready-to-race version of the car for its own series known as the “TMG GT86 Cup”. Now in its second season, the series is proving an increasingly popular route into motorsport.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

The cars themselves are built in TMG’s headquarters in Cologne Germany and are essentially stripped down versions of the road cars, although there are all important chassis, suspension and braking. There are no engine modifications apart from exhaust and a remap (for GT86 heads, the map also eliminates the frustrating “torque dip” found below 4K RPM!).

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The term “ready to race” is often taken literally too! It’s not unusual for customers to buy the cars on race weekend and trailer the same car to the Nurburgring the next day and start racing! In fact it’s easy to see why since TMG have full support teams at each race ready to help with technical setup and on-site spare parts when needed. I was given a quick tour of the parts truck and pretty much everything was accounted for!

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Alex Kudrass is the 2013 Cup champion and qualified P4 for today’s race. Although he was totally focused on the race ahead, he was more than happy to talk to me about the car and the race series. Previously coming from the Seat Leon Cup, Alex finds the GT86 a much more nimble and agile car. It shows too when the cars are able to battle and beat cars running up to 50bhp more in its class in the VLN!

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Although Alex says the championship is very accessible, the competition between teams this year is fierce, especially with the arrival of new teams from across Europe and as far afield as Thailand! In this race, the team finished strongly battling from P4 to second place on the podium. This young driver is clearly talented, so one to watch for the future in GT racing!

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Since the GT86 cup is hosted during the rounds of the VLN championship (the GT endurance championship exclusive to the Nurburgring Nordschleife), it means that the grid is busy, very busy! Whilst walking along the pit lane, the garages were packed with 2-3 cars per box. Everything from Audi R8’s, McLaren 12C’s all the way down to an Opel Manta! The Manta is a bit of a legend in the VLN since it has been competing for years. Apparently it’s driven by the head of Opels sport division OPC!

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Speaking of variety, the VLN championship is probably the only place where you’ll find a Ferrari 458 Challenge car sharing the same garage as a MkII Golf GTi!! Hopefully that gives you an idea of the variety of the 200 or so cars racing on track together!

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But what I really love about the VLN is the accessibility before and during the race (to the race track and the paddock) and the variety of cars racing. This GTR is part of Nissan’s collaboration with Gran Turismo and the “GT academy”. I love the idea of this program since Nissan and Gran Turismo have proven that they can find real talent. When previous GT Academy winners will be driving in Le Mans this year, you know you’re on to something good!

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The #517 car however is a special car. This car wasn’t competing in the GT86 cup but was competing in the overall VLN championship. Team “TMG United” are a group of staff members of Toyota Motorsport who build, prepare and race the car in their own free time; when they’re not building 1000bhp hybrid Le Mans monsters of course! On race weekends, the team pack up their gear after work and arrive at the track on Friday evening. That night they have a big barbecue, and a sing song. Sounds like the perfect start to a race weekend to me and I might just have to take up their offer to join them some time!!

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They were a truly awesome bunch of guys who were more than happy to talk to me during final preparations for the race. Not only is it a way for the staff to socialise together, it also gives the staff members a chance to see how the race cars they build work on race day. Team manager Yves Lötzerich explained to me that absolutely everything must be managed by the team, from logistics to engineering, pit-stops and race strategy. It’s a great incentive since it can give staff members a taste of what goes on at race meetings.
Although the team are building on their experience from last year, they can also count on the experience of the team mechanics such as Andre Haun who have worked with Toyota since the epic rally day of Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol. Andre is more than happy to talk to me about the golden days of Toyota in rallying and his experiences with the WRC and F1 teams. Suffice to say that he would know a thing or two about working on cars under pressure!

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In the midst of chatting to the team, it was easy to forget that there was a 4 hour race ready to start in 30 minutes! The sirens called and the cars had to be wheeled out onto the pit straight. No more formalities, it was time to get the game faces on and get down to business.

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Before we knew it, we were being asked off the grid since the race was ready to get under way. Due to the number of cars racing, and the variety in classes, the cars are set off in 3 different groups. This reduces chronic bunching at the first corners at the start but after the first couple of laps you can see some great action between different classes.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

The race starts off with the relative security of gravel traps and run-off areas on the F1 section of the track. But the smooth open tar soon makes way to the madness of the “northern loop” where run-off areas are non existent and gravel traps are replaced by small grass verges and crash barriers! “Flugplatz” is an awesome part of the track where cars really get airborne. Needless to say, when cars get it wrong here, it REALLY goes wrong! I think in my next visit, I will have to dedicate a few hours of shooting to this spot!

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

Image copyright Toyota Motorsport GmbH.

The British duo of Nigel and Sarah Moore racing for Vantage Motorsport took top honors in the GT86 Cup for a second consecutive race putting them firmly back in the championship. After starting from P2 on the grid, they battled hard and took the lead until the premature end to the race when they finished in top spot. Although they had an “almost perfect” race, Nigel summed up what it’s like to race here:
 
“The Nordschleife keeps you focused the whole time. If you aren’t, the race is over.”

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You might know the name “Felix Baumgartner” from the “Red Bull Stratos” project. Well since he’s conquered the highest free fall ever known to man, he’s on to a much greater challenge…..to try and survive the 24 Hours of the Green Hell! This was his first VLN race before the 24 hour race, so he was getting some precious track time in his Audi Customer Racing R8 LMS.

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Although conditions were ideal for racing, the Nordschleife is an unforgiving track. Watching from above the pits, cars were pitting with battle scars lap after lap. Once you are out of the relative safety of the GP track, there’s a further 22 punishing kilometers which the cars have to endure. Curiosity was getting the better of me so I decided to venture into the Adenauer forest to get a better look for myself.

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But my curiosity began to grow to concern when the echos of race cars began to fall quiet through the hustle and bustle of race fans. Since there was still just under an hour left in the race, this didn’t look like a great sign.

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Indeed when I jumped out of my car at pflanzgarten, I seen people starting to leave. Marshalls were waving their red flags which meant that there had been a serious incident on track. It was impossible to know where on track but cars were slowly filing past me or stopping and asking Marshalls what had happened.
 
As it turned out, there was a 4 car pile-up on the main straight “Döttinger Höhe”. Given that this is the fastest part of the track and since there was a deadly cocktail of spilled oil, glass, carbon and metal strewn across the track, race control stopped the race before any other accidents happened. Thankfully all involved in the crash were OK and didn’t receive serious injuries.

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Although the race ended on a somber note, it was a truly fantastic day out. The variation of the cars racing, the access spectators get before and after the race, and of course the magical track they’re racing on all adds up to create one incredible racing series. Add this to a festival of noise from every type of car imaginable in the roads and car parks surrounding the track, and a visit to the ‘Ring will be an experience you will never forget.
 
This isn’t my first round of the VLN and it certainly won’t be my last. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll find a willing sponsor to allow me to run in the GT86 cup!

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A special word of thanks must be given to Nadine and the team at IKmedia for being so accommodating throughout the day. No only did they arrange complete access to teams and drivers, but the whole TMG group were more than happy to talk to me at length about all things cars. Everyone I met on the day were passionate about their sport and embody all that we try to represent here at Autolifers. Here’s to many more years of racing on the Nordschleife!
 
Words & Photos: Ciaran Feeney
 
To find out more about the TMG GT86 Cup, or the specifications and pricing of the race car, take a look on the TMG website:
http://www.toyota-motorsport.com/motorsport/en/gt86-cup/tmg-gt86-cup

 

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