What is the first thing you think of when you think of NASCAR? A bunch of thundering V8's making left turns all day. What you don't think of is of an import sports car with turbos and modern technology. Toyota's new supra has been in development for what feels like a decade now and Toyota has made no qualms about their desire to take their new toy racing. Back in March Toyota revealed the Gazoo Racing Concept which was what you might expect out of a new sports car, flared fenders, big wing and a look that would fit in any of the world's top sports car racing series. That makes yesterday's announcement all the more puzzling, confusing dare I say out of place? Toyota made it official, the Supra name plate will adorn their Xfinity (Not the top Cup series mind you) contender starting in 2019.
“When you talk Toyota and cool cars, Supra is the first thing that comes to mind for many auto enthusiasts,” said group vice president of Toyota Division Marketing, Ed Laukes. “Supra’s return in production form is huge news, but now we’re also going to see this iconic sports car return to American motorsports. "
But is NASCAR the best place to showcase your new "iconic sports car"? The race car will literally share nothing with its road going counterpart. Strict NASCAR rules dictate the shape of the car's body which has only a passing similarity to the production model. Same applies to the engine (V8) and how they're tuned and the suspension on the race car will feature none of the advanced tech the road car is likely to come with. From a development point of view the Supra NASCAR will do nothing to move the road car forward technologically. So why do it at all? In a word, marketing.
“From a marketing perspective, it’s important to have a race car that evokes the dynamism and character of its showroom counterpart. We’re confident we’ve accomplished that with Supra and we hope racing fans the world over will proudly cheer its success on track.” Laukes said.
NASCAR is without question the biggest racing series in America, even if the Xfinity Series isn't the Cup series. To my European friends out there the Xfinity series is to NASCAR what Formula 2 is to F1. It is not the top series, it is the feeder series where young talent cuts its teeth before going to the big series. Even so many of the big name drivers pull double duty. It is common to see a driver to participate in both the Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup series races in the same weekend. A concept that hasn't been a part of F1 in decades. One of the biggest names is Cup Champion Kyle Busch who just happens to hold the all time record for most Xfinity races won.
"When Ed told me they were bringing Supra back, I almost didn’t believe him. I figured he was messing with me, but Toyota did it and this is a big deal for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Supra is an iconic cool car, and to have it racing in NASCAR to highlight Supra’s return speaks to how important this is. " Busch said. “I’m hoping to be the first guy to get Supra to victory lane, but I’m sure there’s a few other Toyota drivers thinking the same thing.”
All of this big name recognition means the Xfinity Series still gets a ton of eyeballs and those eyeballs are coveted by marketing execs. It simply does not matter what if any resemblance the cars share with their production brothers. It is all about getting a name out there for Joe Public to consume. Seeing the Supra race on the track puts the Supra name at the forefront of American minds and drives sales.
The car was built through a joint effort between Toyota, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and Calty Design Research, Inc. “We’ve had tremendous success working with Calty to develop race cars that match the look, feel and excitement of their showroom counterparts,” said David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development president. “We’re confident Calty and TRD have developed another race car, Supra, that is capable of winning races and championships. For Supra to be racing in NASCAR just speaks to how important this vehicle is to us, and that we believe Supra can be a bona fide championship winner.”
Toyota has enjoyed a lot of success in all branches of NASCAR and I have no doubt with the people they have in place that the Supra will be very competitive, the question still remains is the Supra a good fit in NASCAR? Sure it makes sense in a purely marketing sense but could Toyota have showcased it in a better way? Simple answer is yes, however when you look at the Supra's Xfinity competition the choice starts to make a bit more sense.
The two big American cars in the Xfinity Series are Chevrolet and Ford. Both have chosen to race their Pony cars in the series, the Camaro and Mustang. While those cars may scream V8 simplicity and a typical American flair they are true blue sports cars these days. At its heart the Supra has been an import pony car. 2+2 seating, front engine RWD and most importantly a price tag that made it available to the masses. Sound familiar? The new supra has been rumored to cost around 64k which puts it in the same category as the hotter, pricier Camaros and Mustangs, but it is in the ball park.
To be clear the new Supra has been rumored to feature twin turbos, possibly a hybrid system and other tech that Mustang and Camaro owners wouldn't dream of having. Those cars may have come a long way and they are amazing machines but they aren't technological marvels. All this being said I still feel weird about seeing a Supra in NASCAR. The name evokes speed but just not that kind of speed. I get that from a marketing perspective it makes sense. Toyota is taking their new car and racing it against it's likely rivals for American dollars. This makes logical, sound business sense, doesn't mean I have to like it.