I Know You Want To See A Toyota Prius* Set A Pole Lap at Suzuka
No, I'm not baiting you: you are looking at a Prius...in spirit. Let me explain after we go onboard.
If you've been into GT racing for long enough, you've surely heard of the Toyota Prius GT300, a race car that sounds like a fantastical concoction from Gran Turismo. Only it's real, and has been legitimately fast and victorious in Japan's Super GT series. And in the third round of this year's edition at Suzuka, it set a pole lap.
That's right. A Toyota Prius was on pole in one of the most eclectic and hotly-contested GT classes on the planet, but the asterisk is there for a reason.
Briefly, Super GT is a two-class series in Japan featuring cars that you won't find anywhere else. The top class is called GT500, featuring decked-out, prototype versions of the big three of J-sports: Honda NSX, Nissan GT-R and Toyota Supra, and set qualifying laps that fall within the race pace of LMP1 (if time sheets at Fuji are anything to go by). Those are powered by a turbo 4-pot, but have differing tyres depending on what teams use -- it's the only series where a tyre war is not only allowed, but flourishing.
The second class is GT300, featuring standard GT3 cars seen elsewhere, regulation Mother Chassis cars that have a common tub and engine, and the long-standing yet endangered JAF-GT300 ruleset, which feature Super Saiyan-ized versions of domestic sports cars. Our insane Prius is built in the lattermost category, which affords APR Racing much more room to play around in.
Because while the powertrain is a hybrid like the Prius and mounted at the front as per the revised rules for JAF-GT300 in 2019 (that mandated the race car have the same powertrain layout as the road car), the Prius you're seeing here isn't stock, to say the least. For one, the gas engine is the V8 from the Lexus RC F GT3 car, and its accompanying hybrid-electric system is from a Toyota Crown. Together, the Prius pumps out 500hp, over four times more than a 2020 Prius road car you can find on a dealer.
Another indication that this Prius has been thoroughly fettered with is its chassis and body: "Only the A and B-pillars, half of the roof, some of the floor pan, and elements of the front bulkhead remain of the road-going car" (quoted from TopGear.ph). The rest goes out the window in order to make room for the engine, hybrid system and other racing parts, including aerodynamic devices that take advantage of the Prius' low drag coefficient. Add lightweight RAYS wheels to complete the look, and you got yourself arguably the coolest and fastest-lapping Prius on Earth.
And it's not like a racing Prius is a new or alien concept. In fact, the Prius used to race with a mid-engine layout from its debut in 2013, with a powertrain that is "cousin" to that of the LMP1 hybrid racers Toyota fielded in the TS030 and TS040, to great effect. Over its six-year lifespan, the MR Prius GT300 bagged class wins in Fuji in 2013, Okayama and Motegi in 2015, and SUGO in 2016. Even with Super GT's aggressive "success ballast" system (that nerfs or buffs cars by adding weight or changing fuel flow rate), it's still quite a showing for the platform.
It also shows that just about any car, even ones most enthusiasts scoff at, can make a splash if given the chance.