2016 Toyota 86 T86RS Review: Track Test

Our very own motorsport junkie David Zalstein jumps into the racing seat of the track-only 2016 Toyota 86 T86RS set to race in Australia's new Toyota 86 Racing Series...

What happens when Toyota Australia decides to follow the lead of its Japanese, German and New Zealand counterparts by launching a one-make racing series for its top-selling rear-wheel-drive sports car? The answer is the 2016 Toyota 86 ‘T86RS’.

The Toyota 86 Racing Series officially kicks off on May 20 at Victoria’s Winton Raceway, but before this, Toyota Australia decided to throw the keys to a handful of soon-to-be-raced, track-only Toyota 86s to a bunch of eager Australian media, including CarAdvice.

In short, the Toyota 86 Racing Series is designed to give young, up-and-coming amateur drivers a grass-roots entry into a fledgling championship where they can not only battle it out for $95,000 in prize money ($50k for first, $30k for second, $15k for third), but also challenge themselves against professional drivers. Pros confirmed at this stage include Leanne Tander, Steven Johnson, and two-time Australian Touring Car Champion Glenn Seton.

The five-round series – sanctioned by the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS) and comprising rounds at Sydney Motorsport Park (August 26-28), Sandown Raceway (September 16-18), Mount Panorama (October 6-9), and Sydney Olympic Park (December 2-4) – is planned to run for three years, with each round attached to a $1500 entry fee.

Toyota Australia estimates that, while new or used cars are eligible to be entered – provided they adhere to the series’ control specifications – a new driver, using an entry-level Toyota 86 GT as a base car, can be on the grid and racing for less than $70,000.

For context, that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars more affordable than joining, say, the developmental Dunlop V8 Supercars or Kumho Tyre Australian V8 Touring Car series, however, still a bracket above the likes of the (Hyundai) Excel Cup.

So what makes a T86RS? Well, the changes are key but straightforward.

Take a road-going, six-speed manual Toyota 86 – either a $29,990 base GT or $35,990 top-spec GTS – strip out the rear seats, carpet and a swag of other ‘unnecessary’ interior components, weld in a full roll cage, and throw on a set of 18-inch 'Asfalto' OZ Racing alloy wheels wrapped in a high-performance 40-aspect Dunlop Direzza DZII control tyre measuring 225mm wide.

To meet series’ requirements, cars must also be fitted with CAMS-compliant race seats and multi-point harnesses, a 2.0kg hand-held fire extinguisher, and a ‘locked’ series-specific Motec M150 electronic control unit (ECU).

A TRD engine oil cooler, baffled oil sump pan, custom-made manifold-to-tailpipe exhaust system (including extractors and muffler), and a modified series-specific throttle stop are also musts, along with adjustable MCA front and rear coil-over suspension and significantly upgraded AP Racing brakes (comprising 330mm discs and four-piston calipers up front and 316mm discs and two-piston calipers out back).

Topping off the T86RS racing package is a TRD rear boot-lip spoiler and all the mandated stickers and decals required by the series.

Sauntering up to what will be our very own T86RS for the next three laps of a controlled 2.5-kilometre ‘closed road’ loop located inside the Sutton Road driver training centre near Canberra, the car looks the business.

Neat rather than intimidating, the exterior belies the hard work and development the series’ technical director, four-time Australian Rally Champion Neal Bates, and his team at Neal Bates Motorsport, have put into the cars and the category.

Helmet on, we not-so-gracefully manoeuvre our way through the roll cage and snuggly slide into the fixed Sabelt racing bucket, strap and click ourselves into the bright red, five-point Sabelt harness and start looking for the appropriate switches required for start up.

There are none, though. No toggles for batteries, ignitions or fuel pumps, just the regular key from the standard GT model our car is based on. Simple.

Having completed three laps of the same simulated country road loop in a standard 2016 Toyota 86 Blackline Edition just prior to hopping into ‘our’ T86RS, upon turning key in the race car, a few glaring contrasts between the two become immediately clear. The race car is lower, louder and easily angrier.

Although at idle things seem quite reasonable for a modified, stripped-out racer, grab first gear and squeeze the throttle and the volume rises exponentially.

Sounding more unrestricted Honda VTEC than textbook boat-like Subaru ‘boxer’ engine burble, the T86RS buzzes its way up the rev range before we shift to second.

Despite the racier sound, Bates tells us the T86RS doesn’t have much over the standard car in terms of sheer straight-line speed, with the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine gaining around 6kW of power over the regular 86’s 147kW.

There is more mid-range poke, however, and even with the full roll cage installed, Bates says the race car is still around 20-30kg lighter than the 1257-1275kg road car – the former restricted to a 1200kg minimum weight limit, or 1285kg including a driver.

And it’s this weight saving, combined with the stickier tyres and race-spec suspension, that really sets the T86RS apart from its donor car, making for a flatter, sharper and even more agile Toyota 86 driving experience.

To be clear, it’s far from a daily driver, but there aren’t the rattles or whines from the gearbox or limited-slip rear differential that you might usually associate with a race car.

The clutch and standard six-speed manual transmission are just as forgiving and accurate as the road car’s, and while your hands might be wrapped around a dished and suede-covered Sabelt racing steering wheel, the T86RS is no pig to hustle around.

The steering, like the car’s general feedback and engagement, is simply at a heightened level compared with the standard car’s – an impressive base itself to start from.

Every blip of the throttle, every dip of the clutch, every degree of turn-in, every squeeze of the solid brake pedal, the car is talking to you, keeping you abreast of all that’s happening beneath you and around you. It’s addictive.

In fact, the T86RS is so much fun, with our all-too-brief three laps done and a grin still firmly plastered all over our face, we were tempted to put some number plates on it and drive it home…

Locally at least, the Toyota 86 has been a solid seller for the Japanese brand, with 16,000 units sold in Australia since the two-door, rear-drive sports car launched here in June 2012.

And it’s little wonder. Often criticised for being ‘underpowered’, like it or not, the thing is fun.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that when you strip some weight out, add in a roll cage and turn the regular road car into an out-and-out racer, all the ingredients are there to make something fairly promising. And the T86RS and the Toyota 86 Racing Series itself are certainly that.

Time will tell if the series reaches the sort of success Toyota and the series’ key players – namely Toyota 86 Racing Series patron and Toyota 86 global chief engineer Tetsuya Tada and T86RS technical director Neal Bates – are hoping for.

But if you’ve got the money to get involved and think you’ve got the talent to compete, we can’t help but be more than a little jealous.

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Toyota 86 T86RS images by David Zalstein.