Might Toyota Have A Go At North American TCR In 2021?

By Peter Nelson

September 03, 2020

autosport.com

 

A few days ago while planning our Fall/Winter press loan schedule, we happened upon something that genuinely piqued our interest on Toyota.com: mention of an upcoming GR Hot Hatch.

 

Months back we had read about Toyota hinting at potentially bringing a turbocharged hot hatch to the North American market, by way of their current-gen Corolla. Then we read this piece by Car And Driver that lays everything out quite well regarding what to expect if they do. We say if, because before we visited Toyota.com earlier this week, we always maintain the mindset that these kinds of enthusiast faves are tough to justify selling in the good ol’ US of A. We buy too many big trucks and crossovers.

 

But now, dedicating website space to something to the effect of “we hear you, and we’ve got something in store,” as well as finding this other piece by Car And Driver, got us a bit more excited. Not just for the potential of more fun, turbo hot hatches on the road, but for the potential of more pit lane diversity as well. Might they give TCR a go in 2021 or 2022?

 

Balancing Out the Equation

 

Taking a look around the current market for hot hatches, there are some real winners currently on sale today. The Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N, while not the best-selling vehicles at the moment, are here to stay for at least the next couple of years, as are their less-powerful-yet-still-fun siblings, the Honda Civic Si and Veloster Turbo.

 

The Toyota Corolla Apex Edition will soon be going on sale: a mildly-hotter version of their 4-door sedan variant with some upgraded suspension bits, decent tires, a teeny-bit more power, and some nice exterior accents to match. We're hoping it'll be good fun to drive. While down on power, this is the logical choice to compete with the Civic Si and Veloster Turbo. The Apex only makes 168 horsepower against the other brands’ 200 or so. Since it fits in nicely at this portion of the market, it only makes sense for Toyota to go hard in the paint and offer a faster version to go up against these cars’ more athletic siblings, especially in hatchback form, so as to be as direct of competition as possible.

 

Much to our excitement, Mazda has already confirmed they’ll be selling a hot version of their Mazda3 hatchback, equipped with all-wheel drive, good power, and a quick-shifting automatic transmission. They most likely aren’t calling it a Mazdaspeed as for better or worse they’re past that branding; we think they’d call it something like the Mazda3 Club, or just Mazda3 Turbo.

 

So, we’ve got hot models by Mazda, Hyundai, and Honda. They’re all front-wheel drive or front-wheel drive-biased all-wheel drive, mostly all come with 6-speed manual transmissions, have engine displacements of around 2.0 liters, have turbos strapped to their exhaust manifolds, are all 5-door hatches (well, Hyundai gets strong marks for character as theirs is a 4-door hatch), and all hover in the $27,000 - $43,000 range. The Toyota GR Corolla will fit in quite nicely.

 

Most of these cars also have something in common that especially piques our interest here at WR: they are raced across the country in SRO and IMSA MPC TCR.

 

 TCR Driver Mason Filippi - Bryan Herta Autosport

 

The Best Version of Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday

 

We should quickly add that Mazda unfortunately backed out of TCR after announcing they'd join in 2021, which is a massive bummer but understandable given this rotten COVID year of 2020. The others are doing pretty with campaigning TCR cars, despite COVID putting a massive damper on the season schedule.

 

Taking a quick look at SRO TCR Race 1 at Road America last weekend, the majority of the field was Civic Type Rs, with one Veloster N and two Alfas (we won’t count the Alfas though, since they aren’t sold as road-legal cars here in America). The weekend at Sonoma a few weeks prior was a tad paltrier, though still, not bad for these weird COVID times. This upcoming weekend at Road Atlanta, the field is looking quite stacked in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR.

 

TCR in North America has been steadily growing since its introduction a few seasons back. The cars are fast, they’re easier on consumables, easier on the wallet in general (compared to GT), they share a good amount of parts with their civilian, road-going siblings, the rulebook isn’t insane; these all make pro racing more attainable and a solid step between club racing and higher-level GT racing. Honda and Hyundai are heavily invested in the class here and abroad; the Hyundai i30N (the Veloster’s 5-door cousin) and Civic Type R make up a huge percentage of car counts at races all over Europe. Plus, who doesn’t dig a hot hatch kitted out with all the aero, slick tires, a loud exhaust, and 300-to-350 glorious, turbocharged horsepower to rip out of corners with?

 

Its high time for someone to come in and have it out with Hyundai and Honda, as well as VW, Alfa, and Audi, especially considering GTIs aren’t really around at the moment. Hyundai has proven that one can swoop in with a car and kick a lot of butt pretty quickly. Who better than the world’s largest car manufacturer, who’s making moves to cater more towards enthusiasts, has received a good bit of praise for the A90 Supra (from us included), and already has platforms that can easily conform to TCR?

 

The platforms we have in mind are the Corolla hatchback currently running in BTCC, and Corolla sedan currently planned for Argentina TCR.

 

Not many details have emerged quite yet about the sedan in South America, but my stars does the hatchback in BTCC look and sound the business:

 


 

It can’t be too hard to conform the hatch to the general TCR rulebook.

 

One potential hiccup in the SRO and IMSA MPC TCR rulebooks would be if cars are required to have engine displacements 2.0 liters and a total of four cylinders. This is because the powerplant in the road-going GR Corolla hatch will be their three-cylinder, 1.6-liter turbo, which in stock form punches out 257 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Toyota currently has this under the hood of the GR Yaris, a homologation car that we’ll sadly never get. Though if a rulebook revision is possible, if even needed, it probably wouldn’t be hard to pull another 60-or-so ponies out of it.

 

Healthy Coffers Means More Room For Fun Activities

 

While we’re sometimes a bit critical of the amount of SUVs and crossovers occupying America’s garages and parking spaces, we do acknowledge that the more of these automakers sell, the more money they have for fun stuff like racing. Hyundai and Porsche, among many others, are prime examples of this.

 

To go a step further, healthy sales of a racecar’s street legal, civilian, plane ol’ non-performance-oriented trim help even more. The Corolla has always been a best-seller in the US, and according to carsalesbase.com, even during the pandemic they’ve been moving quite well, hatchback included. Toyota sold around 4,000 more hatchbacks back in May over May 2019, and around 3,000 more in June over June 2019 (July not so much; fingers crossed we get through this pandemic sooner than later).

 

There are plenty of models selling on dealer lots, which keeps the coffers full and would allow Toyota to throw more money at racing. On the flip-side, seeing racecar versions of their top-trim performance offerings duke it out on track helps sell a lot of the road-legal models. Going one step further, it helps the aftermarket offer methods to soup up street cars as well; a win across the board!

 

Toyota is in a good position to enter TCR, and they definitely should. There’s plenty of competition (especially from their most-direct competitors), Mazda has dropped out, this generation Corolla is proving to be a potent platform for racing in Europe, race on Sunday sell on Monday is always sound marketing (especially for versatile hot hatches that possess a ton of hype), and touring car racing has just always been a the more the merrier sport.

 

Holy cow it’s already September; if 2021 is a tad too soon, why not 2022?