The Toyota Gazoo Racing Academy Experience was truly one for the books. It was thrilling. The whole day was exactly how I pictured it would be in my head, and more! High speeds, quick corners, and the feeling of the G-forces pushing on my body at each turn, straight, and braking points on the Clark International Speedway.
The whole thing started when I was invited by the main man himself of the Tuason Racing School that runs the Toyota Gazoo Racing Academy, Uncle JP Tuason, to give the racing school a shot and experience a day on the track behind the driver’s seat while at the same time, learning some new skills for racing and driving. He said that there are only 2 requirements, a health certificate that says I don’t have the COVID virus, and a driver’s license. Of course, I excitingly accepted. During the Zoom briefing a day before the actual track day, we talked about the basics and mechanics of racing. We were told as well that we were going to do braking exercises, a slalom course, and lastly, follow the leader, on top of learning how to take corners with the apex’s, inside-outside corner taking, throttle control and braking, and lastly, shifting. Which in my opinion, was the most intriguing and at the same time, the most challenging aspect of the whole briefing. After that discussion, we discussed driving safety, both on and off the track. Tito JP specifically told us that we were going to be driving the newly updated Toyota Vios that has been specifically tuned and setup for the upcoming new Vios cup series.
He said to the class, “Don’t let the 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 110 horsepower engines fool you. It’s one thing to drive one of these in a village, it’s a whole different feeling once you drive it on a track.” The general response among the members of the Zoom meeting was one short of a surprise. Almost as if they didn’t believe that the cars would be quick. I’ve watched a few of the Vios cup races, so I knew more or less what to expect, and because of that, I was extremely excited and eager to get behind the wheel.
The drive to Clark was the first step, but because of the new Highway extensions Northbound that lead straight to the entrance of SCTEX (Subic – Clark – Tarlac Expressway) the trip took more or less an hour and thirty minutes of straight highway travel. Upon arrival to the track itself, I was greeted by the sound of the Vios OMR’s running down the track’s main straight, as well as the TRS team clearing other participants to proceed at the entrance. I signed in, showed my health forms, got a suit, and headed for the Tuason Racing School paddock. The temperature was just short of 37°C, it was a hot day, but I came prepared with a cooler filled with drinks and fruits. I came in under an hour early for my class to get some shots of the other TRS cars on the track, and since it was my first time ever being in the Clark circuit, I wanted to look around at the other garage’s, and it was truly an automotive enthusiasts paradise. The garages along the pitlane had all kinds of cars and motorcycles, from Radicals, Formula 4 cars, to Suzuki Hayabusa’s just being worked on by mechanics and engineers, whether they belonged to racing teams or they were privately owned, I just marveled at the sight of these cars and motorcycles. I personally got excited seeing two of my all-time favorite cars, a spotless, open hood, 1997 Mazda RX-7 with its Wankel Rotary engine on full display, looking shiny and bright as if it were displayed in a showroom, and a modded Nissan GT-R R-34 with the driver doing what I assume was a shakedown of the car, testing suspension or braking, but the sound of the RB-26 engine was mind-blowing. Seeing all these things around me just made me wish time flew by a bit faster so we could get into the cars and drive already.
While waiting for my race batch’s turn, I ran into an old friend of mine, Mikey Keilani Jordan (Yes… that is his real name) and we discussed the race class, he was 2 batches ahead of me and is a member of a racing team himself ‘Jordan Racing team’. Growing up he competed professionally in Go-Karting, bringing home trophies both at a local and international level so he’s no stranger to driving fast, but he put his whole racing career on pause for about 3 years to focus on his last 3 years of high school, but now he’s getting back into motorsports and wanted to take a refresher class with Toyota GR/TRS. I specifically remember asking him, “Oh, Mikey! How was the car?!” and his response was, “Man, it was quick! You know I had to throw in a wee bit of heel and toe action!” and we were laughing, and having a great time. My class had not even started yet and I was already enjoying myself way more than I thought I would. After that whole conversation, he took me around, showed me some of the other gems in garages, and he told me more about the track, where to brake, where to accelerate, and what speeds I could achieve on each corner. Some time had passed and before I knew it, it was my batch’s turn for some track time.
We had another pre-race briefing where we discussed more or less the same things we did in the zoom briefing, so the pre-track briefing was more of a reminder and refresher to the previous zoom briefing. However, during that briefing, Tito JP warned us about crunching gears and breaking the Manual Car’s transmission, and if we had broken it, we would have to replace it. I was listed as a Manual driver, and his reminder about the manual cars worried me and made me question my capability for driving manual cars. Thankfully they had CVT cars available as well so with the group’s consent, I swapped out of the Manual Car and traded it for a CVT variant.
Post briefing, we took some pictures and headed out onto the actual pit lane where the cars were parked. My initial reaction to seeing the car upfront for the first time was an interesting one. Looking at it, it is a Toyota Vios, but it’s not, it is a race spec’d VIOS, with OEM TRD parts, ROTA wheels wrapped with BRIDGESTONE tires and fueled with PETRON, there are race decals, their stripped-down to save weight, they are all tuned exactly the same, the entertainment systems are removed, But! The air conditioning still works, because in the words of Tito JP Tuason himself, “That’s how we roll here at the Toyota Gazoo Racing Academy!”.
Jumping into the car, I felt safe, the bucket seat hugged me and held me and place, and the 5-point seat belt kept my body stuck in one place the whole time. Starting the car was a shock to me, it was way louder than I expected it to be, all the more since I was wearing a helmet and the only way the Race coaches could talk to us was by means of a radio strapped on the visor on top of the driver’s seat, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hear them since the helmet covered my ears, and the stripped-down interior without any insulation exaggerated all the noises the car made, from vibrations, to tire screeches, everything was louder than it usually would be inside a normal car. The sound of the engines trying their best to propel the vehicle, and the tires we’re fighting for grip every inch of the tarmac throughout the racecourse was just so exciting to me. The feeling of your body being pushed from side to side as you take turns, the way your body pushes against the seat as you accelerate, and forward being held back by a seatbelt as you brake into each corner. The car really surprised me, all aspects of it. Cornering, acceleration in straights, braking. I was able to top off at 179 km/h on the straights and hit the first corner after the straight at around 120 km/h. Followed by a chicane then back into another straight. It was nothing short of spectacular.
This is really an experience you can’t recreate virtually, not unless you are a member of a car club and have a dedicated car for the track. This is an incredible experience that I truly recommend to everyone to improve your driving skills so you are safer and more efficient on the road. If you have the opportunity to join and you are an enthusiast, do not miss out! The Toyota Gazoo Racing Academy series wouldn’t be possible without Toyota Motor Philippines, Petron Corporation, and Bridgestone Philippines.