Why does Toyota run an older Lexus model with IMSA? It still wins.

J.A.
By J.A. Ackley
Oct 15, 2023 | Lexus, Endurance Racing, IMSA, Rolex 24 at Daytona, rolex 24, Petit Le Mans, Lexus RC F, Lexus Motorsports | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Dave Green

A Petit Le Mans class win last fall. Two Rolex 24 podium finishes, including this year. An IMSA Sprint Cup championship in 2020. Lexus is no slouch in GT3 racing.

Lexus, a 33-year-old brand in the United States, has built its reputation on quality, durability, reliability and experience,” said Vinay Shahani, Vice President, Lexus Marketing. “Where we don’t get enough credit is in the performance space.”

Why Lexus? Why not GR?

Photography Credit: Courtesy Lexus

Photography Credit: Courtesy Lexus

The parent company of Lexus, Toyota, has the GR Supra, GR86 and GR Corolla as part of its namesake brand. These are cars with solid reputations in the motorsports space. So, why not go with a Toyota in GT3 racing rather than a Lexus?

“Walk the grid,” said Jeff Bal, Lexus Senior Manager of Motorsports. “Look at every competitor we’re racing against. Every one of them is a luxury car.”

Mercedes-AMG. Aston Martin. McLaren. Acura. Lamborghini. Porsche. BMW.

Point made.

Admittedly, Bal added that Lexus has work to do to get word out about the brand.

“The LC 500, if you go to the fan experience here, there are people who ask what that car is,” said Bal. “If they’re not a Lexus owner already, they don’t know.”

Bal cites the Lexus Performance Driving School, with its lead instructor being five-time Rolex 24 overall winner Scott Pruett, as one way to turn people on to Lexus.

“[It is] about 50/50 of who’s a Lexus owner and who’s not,” Bal said of the school’s participants. “At the end of the day, [school participants say,] ‘Man, I had no idea Lexus built cars that could do that.’”

Furthermore, racing provides another way for Lexus to confirm its place as a luxury brand with solid performance chops.

“This is the highest level of sports car racing in North America,” said Bal. “This is the best opportunity to connect performance with the brand.”

Making a Street Car a Race Car

Photography Credit: J.A. Ackley

Photography Credit: J.A. Ackley

Lexus engines powered prototypes from 2004 to 2009, winning the Rolex 24 for three straight years. The company then selected its two-door coupe, the RC F, as its entrant into the IMSA GT world in 2017.

“Mercedes, Lamborghini, Ferrari–they started as race cars years ago,” Bal said. “Maybe reluctantly, they became luxury brands. We started as luxury brand.”

Along those lines, Lexus began with a passenger car and then built a race car from it.

“Before you draw your first line on paper, you have to decide whether you’re going to build a GT3 car–that really has to be in the consideration set,” said David Wilson, TRD President. “What happened with the RC F–which we’ve developed into a good race car, and it’s capable of winning–racing was an afterthought.”

Because of this, the RC F needs to overcome some challenges as a race car.

“The perfect case in point is last year in [the Rolex 24], the last lap coming to the checkered flag there were two Porsche 911s racing door to door like it was a NASCAR race–they were bouncing off each other,” Wilson said. “They both made it to the checkered flag and Porsche won the race. Our Lexus would not have survived that.”

In addition to durability comes another aspect of racing: the ability to repair a car quickly when trouble inevitability occurs.

“The manner in which you service a car in a 24-hour [race] … should be factored in,” said Wilson. “The poster child for that is the brand-new Ferrari … because it’s very modular.”

Regardless of its vulnerabilities, the Lexus RC F continues to rise to the occasion.

“It’s a credit to the production car,” Wilson said.

On the Horizon

Photography Credit: Courtesy LAT Images/IMSA

Photography Credit: Courtesy LAT Images/IMSA

Lexus debuted the RC F in IMSA competition in 2017. That makes it the oldest car on the GTD grid.

“The challenge is there’s only so much we can do with this platform,” said Wilson. “We’ve been polishing this rock for years.”

The age of the car is not lost on Lexus.

“The good news is because of the success we’ve had in IMSA, we’ve developed a level of respect and credibility with our colleagues in Japan,” Wilson said. “They’re listening to us. We’re actively engaged in in the development of our next generation of sports car.”

You may have seen the Toyota GR GT3 concept car. That won’t be the new car for Lexus.

“No, this is separate,” said Shahani of the new GT3 car for Lexus. “We’re not ready to talk about timing, yet.”

[Toyota GR GT3 Concept now in “development”]

Methodical. That’s a trait you can attribute to Lexus, too.

Go back to the roots of the brand. In 1983, then-chairman of Toyota, Eiji Toyoda, issued the challenge to build the world’s best car, code-named F1 for Flagship One. They designed approximately 450 prototypes and spent more than $1 billion to develop the first Lexus, the LS 400. It debuted in January 1989 at the North American International Auto Show.

“One thing that Toyota is great for is we don’t tend to rush and hurry things,” Bal said. “We are meticulous in how we bring things to market. We want the [new GT3] car tomorrow. But, we’re taking our time.”

In the mean time, the Lexus RC F continues to shine in IMSA.

“We’re earning the respect,,” said Wilson. “It’s got other GT3 owners coming to us asking if they can run our car next year. We’d love to say yes. Candidly, we don’t have the inventory. We have to preserve the parts and pieces that we have to service [our race cars].

“What’s remarkable is that in spite of the fact that this isn’t a proper GT3 car, we have interest from our competitors. That’s not a reflection of the car, that’s a reflection of Lexus and the quality of this organization. That’s what makes me proudest more than anything else.”

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/2/23 1:39 p.m.

“One thing that Toyota is great for is we don’t tend to rush and hurry things,” Bal said. “We are meticulous in how we bring things to market. We want the [new GT3] car tomorrow. But, we’re taking our time.”

This kind of reminds me of the amount of time and effort that went into developing the LFA.

Wasn't there a story that Lexus went back to the drawing board for a few years because they didn't like how the exhaust sounded or something like that?

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
2/2/23 3:26 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

The LFA began development in the early 2000s. It launched with the 2011 model year. Yes, Lexus definitely takes a methodical approach.

j_tso
j_tso Dork
2/2/23 4:20 p.m.

I think with the LFA they designed the chassis in aluminum, and then far into the project switched to carbon and ended up making their own loom for that.

 

The part about Lexus racing with other luxury brands I can understand, make sense to have a Lexus in GT3 and Toyota with the Supra in GT4.

On the other hand, does racing still "sell on Sunday" ? Cadillac seems like they're still trying to get out of the geriatric image. 

QuikMcshifterson
QuikMcshifterson New Reader
2/2/23 4:58 p.m.
j_tso said:

"sell on Sunday" ? Cadillac seems like they're still trying to get out of the geriatric image. 

Yeah, I've been wondering why Cadillac decided to make a prototype instead of a GT3 / GT4 car that could actually relate to their road-going V models.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/3/23 2:21 p.m.

In reply to QuikMcshifterson :

Good question. (And I know a guy I should ask.)

But just guessing, maybe to run at the top rung. It doesn't look like a Cadillac that you can buy, but it still says Cadillac on it.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
2/3/23 3:08 p.m.
QuikMcshifterson said:
j_tso said:

"sell on Sunday" ? Cadillac seems like they're still trying to get out of the geriatric image. 

Yeah, I've been wondering why Cadillac decided to make a prototype instead of a GT3 / GT4 car that could actually relate to their road-going V models.

The same reason it took them FOREVER to introduce a customer GT3 version of the Corvette: Because GM doesn't want to compete against themselves on track. Also, with a locked-down factory effort with no customer competition, you control the product and the perception of the product from design to victory lane. There's no risk that some privateer in a customer car is ever going to win a race in your car and have a camera stuck in their face only to put a hat on that says "Who Farted?" with an arrow pointing down and holler "Hell yeah I did it for Dale!" before flipping off a national TV audience.*

(*should I ever win Daytona I promise I will do this I don't care if they keep the watch)

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Dork
2/3/23 6:43 p.m.
QuikMcshifterson said:
j_tso said:

"sell on Sunday" ? Cadillac seems like they're still trying to get out of the geriatric image. 

Yeah, I've been wondering why Cadillac decided to make a prototype instead of a GT3 / GT4 car that could actually relate to their road-going V models.

Cause they already have corvette and camaro in those classes

j_tso
j_tso Dork
2/3/23 7:07 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

But just guessing, maybe to run at the top rung. It doesn't look like a Cadillac that you can buy, but it still says Cadillac on it.

I think Mazda said something along those lines about competing in DPi. They wanted to signal their move upmarket so they raced in the top class.

jb229
jb229 New Reader
2/5/23 9:53 a.m.

Surely their next car will be an LC500?  They're debuting the LC500h in the top GT500 class in Super GT this year, but plan on doing a GT300 (which is a mildly customized set of GT3 regs) Lexus next year.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
10/16/23 11:00 a.m.

Update:

GTD Pro Manufacturers champion

Driver and team titles.

Not too shabby for the oldest car in the field.

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