The GT300 Hybrid Is Ready For Racing
A Toyota Prius battling it out on road courses against the likes of BMW Z4s, Lamborghini Gallardos, McLaren MP4s and Porsche 911s?
At January’s Tokyo Auto Salon, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) unveiled Toyota’s latest chapter in hybrid racing technology — the newest edition GT300 specification Prius, which is no ordinary gas-sipping hybrid. Built in partnership with APR Racing, the GT300 will compete in Japan’s exciting Super GT Series for the fifth year.
The Super GT Series is a grand touring racing venue that began in 1993. The cars are divided into two groups: GT300 and GT500 (cars with no more than 300 and 500 horsepower). With both groups of cars on the track at the same time, the racing is dicey and highly entertaining.
This new GT300 joins the other race-spec Toyota hybrid, the TS040. It is a more advanced hybrid racer that competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It Looks Like The New Prius—Sort Of
Every element of the GT300’s bodywork is custom-fabricated in carbon fiber, though TRD and APR Racing were careful to retain the all-new 2016 Prius’ profile and styling cues. The racecar has the same intriguingly shaped front grill, spaceship-like headlights and air intakes. In back, the taillights are the same as those used on the standard Prius. Other than those elements, the track-only car’s aerodynamic package was designed according to Super GT regulations and was built using computational fluid dynamics technology.
The Japanese builder has added center-locking alloy wheels tucked under absolutely massive fender flares, a deep bumper with a big air vent and a dry carbon front splitter. Side skirts, a rear
diffuser and an oversized wing help generate drag and adhesion to the track surface, especially around high-speed corners. All told, the racecar is much lower and considerably wider than the regular-production hatchback it’s loosely based on.
Inside, the driver sits in a specifically designed bucket seat and faces a multifunction steering wheel crafted out of carbon fiber and a digital information display that replaces the instrument cluster. Other than an added full roll cage, all equipment is removed to make the racing Prius as light as possible.
This steroidal Prius racer dumps the production model’s 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine in favor of the 3.4-liter ‘RV8K’V-8 race engine. The engine’s designation is derived from “racing V8,” using the RV8 prefix that has served a large number of Toyota racing machines, including the Le Mans-competing TS040.
The naturally aspirated 90-degree V-8 features an aluminum block and head along with a dual overhead camshaft design with four valves per cylinder. The engine is detuned from the original 600 horsepower to meet GT 300 regulations of 300 horsepower.
As you might expect from the photo, the big V-8 is not under the hood. Instead, it’s a mid-engine layout with the race engine mounted between the B-pillars and rear axles, delivering torque to the rear wheels via a sequential six-speed manual gearbox.
Of course a Prius can’t be a Prius without a hybrid powerplant. Toyota’s latest Hybrid Synergy Drive system from the 2016 street car is employed, but is relocated to the passenger footwell for better weight distribution. Also borrowed from the new Prius is the electric motor, though with minor modifications to make it racetrack ready. The electric drive system receives its power from a small lithium-ion battery.
The race team is fielding two Prius racecars in the 2016 season. Hiroaki Nagai and Kota Sasaki pilot the No. 30 car, while Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama share driving duties in the No. 31 car.
APR Racing and TRD tweaked the newest GT300 in preparation for the Super GT season opener at Japan’s Okayama International Circuit on April 9 and 10. APR is one of the most successful championship teams in the Super GT300 class, and last year campaigned the outgoing Prius GT300. In that first race the two Prius finished 12th and 14th, one lap off the winning pace. In the second race of the season at Fuji, one Prius finished ninth while the second car fell to 20th in the hotly contested field.
Commenting on his time racing last year’s GT300 Prius, Koki Saga said: “The hybrid system reached a certain maturity with the previous model and now we have the new model, which has [become the] strongest machine APR have ever had. We won twice last year… so our goal this year is to win three times and get the championship.” They have five more races this year to try to make that mark.
Good luck fellas, the American Prius fan boys will be rooting for you.
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