Last weekend was special. I stumbled upon a rare visual, looking down from the balcony of my room at the Yas Viceroy hotel, to capture a relaxed moment when a structural cleaner briefly looked away from his job, to see a race car pass by on the tracks of the Yas Marina Circuit. But, what made the weekend special was the reason I was put up at the Viceroy, and the multi-fold unveiling that followed the Toyota Racing Development launch at a preparatory garage in Yas Marina.
TRD or Toyota Racing Development had more than what was anticipated in store for us. In a prep room sidelining the pit lane of the Yas, Al Futtaim Motors and Toyota had set up smoke machines and some ravishing models (first the girls, and then the cars) to mark the reveal of the Toyota 86 TRD version. Even the lectern was a stack of tyres: nice touch! Soon after the launch of the TRD version of the most affordable genuinely sporty two-seater of recent times, curtains, rather walls parted ways for the unveil of a whole array of the TRD version of familiar Toyota vehicles – the Yaris hatchback and sedan; Corolla and the Aurion, all of them clad in decals and stripes with gleaming wheels under glamorous lights.
We were treated to a couple of TV commercials planned for the TRD models, as well as the new TRD 86. And then, as we were eagerly bracing ourselves for the fun events that would give us a taste of the TRD tweaking, the side shutters went up and parked next to the circuit pit lane was the TRD 86 cup car itself, flanked by UAE’s favourite scion of sideways driving, Ahmed Al Ameri.
Action in helmets and balaclava
Toyota PR team knows that there is a frustrated racer in most automotive reviewers and writers. So they had organized a mixed track event that would allow drivers to let go of any inhibition and freewheel their racing dreams. I was part of the Group C (there were four groups in total thanks to the overwhelming turnout of motoring journalists at the event).
The first on the activities chart was the skid pad, where we got to experience the action of the variable traction control on the 86 TRD. Of the three rounds, the last for me was the one with the Traction Control off and the Electronic Stability Programme on and I was perfectly in line despite the aquatic powers tugging on the car. Both the fully automated and the fully manual rounds were a disaster but lesson learnt, the mid-path proved to be my lucky one that reinstated my dreams as a race driver.
Then came the run around barrels, where we were doing a donut around four barrels (looked like the leftover barrels were used as table-tops for the refreshments – a fine idea!) and the timings were clocked for a prize later. The race was in a TRD tweaked Aurion, and I remembered how I hated the Aurion sport with its rubbery embellishments. The TRD Aurion looked fun-streaked and well-enhanced and will thankfully relieve me of the sight of that ghastly Aurion Sport from now on!
The Gymkhana event was the last of the lot with the biggest trophy bait, and it was ‘performed’ using a Yaris hatchback or sedan. Mine was a sedan and this event was a lot of fun with donuts and carefree corners and unbridled acceleration in the short stretch. I missed a prize by one second, but it renewed my outlook on the Yaris, but for the way it left the base with its measly take-off velocity.
We wound up on time and in line with the plans and were the first to return to home base for an experience of the TRD 86 Cup car. Back at HQ, the TRD 86 cars were waiting for us. Some of us were disappointed that we weren’t allowed to drive but hey, with the R1 the next day, it would have been a huge risk handing over these cars to over-enthusiastic journalists.
Usually, a lap around the circuit takes my adrenaline up while a hot lap with even the most seasoned drivers only takes my BP up! Just when I was ready to let it pass, Ahmed Al Ameri emerged from a hot lap and I got him back to another TRD 86 to show me the works! It was my first experience of the main Yas Marina tracks sideways and as he skidded around corners, I let out an excited cry like a schoolboy – it was pure adrenaline rush! The straights were taken close to 180 kmph, but the real excitement was the way the TRD 86 grew claws to scramble around corners!
Toyota has done well by introducing the TRD kit into select vehicles that would otherwise be just perfect daily draws. Offered in aerodynamic and sport packs, TRD spikes up the Toyota 86, the all-new Yaris Hatchback, Yaris Sedan, Corolla and Aurion. While the aerodynamic adds a unique, aggressive look with front and rear bumper spoilers and side skirts, giving TRD cars, the sport pack goes a step further, adding performance wheels with low profile tyres, as well as a sport oil filter, lowered springs and other sporty additions.
Besides a sharper design, it gives the cars better performance, such as improved straight line and cornering stability thanks to better down force and aerodynamics. All TRD parts come with a 5-year warranty and are built to GCC specifications. elements of each pack can be purchased separately, the complete aerodynamic and sport packs will be available at promotional prices.
The TRD pack is the best thing that happened ever since the 86 was launched, in bringing back the spirit of adventure to the stables of a Japanese value icon.