On a celebrated racetrack in western Japan, Lexus tests its most impressive race car yet. We drop in for a brief pit stop
Deep in the mountains of Okayama prefecture, loud shrieks echo off the hillsides. A lone race car, the Lexus RC F GT3, is running laps of the Okayama International Circuit, a 3.7-kilometer-long racetrack in Mimasaka, in western Japan, thrilling a group of interested onlookers. Every time the car speeds along the front straight – a hot white streak – people gasp.
We’re here for a Lexus testing session. A dozen or so racing engineers are running around the pit area with stopwatches and wrenches, ready to pounce on the race car when it returns to the garage. There are mechanical adjustments to be made, they agree – details to be ironed out to improve performance.
As soon as the car comes in, work begins. Many hands see to minute technical adjustments – small tweaks that make major differences. Akira Iida, the RC F GT3’s chief test driver, springs out of the car and is immediately met by the vehicle’s lead engineer. “I relay to him everything,” Iida says, “from the way the engine delivers power to the handling balance through the turns.”
Iida, who this year will be driving the RC F GT3 in the GT300 class of the Super GT, a grand touring car racing series that began in 1993, gets back into the car and accelerates away for another session, while an onboard data telemetry system records everything from the car’s tire pressures to its engine’s RPM. Data is relayed back to computers monitored by Lexus engineers inside the pit garage, and the combination of these figures, and the driver’s comments, allows them to recognize what needs to be improved to make the car quicker and more efficient. On a typical day of testing, dozens of different settings are deployed until the right combination is found for that particular circuit.
While Formula One often dominates the racing headlines, true motor sports enthusiasts also follow sports car racing, a form of auto competition requiring that every car have two seats and enclosed wheels. What makes this form of competition so intriguing? For one, sports cars are based on production models that anyone can drive – a regulation known as homologation ensures every vehicle is based on a production model with a minimum number of sales. And second, each contest is extremely competitive. Outcomes are often decided on the last lap of a race, and in the last race of a season. Lexus has been involved in sports car racing events around the world since its founding in 1989, but with this vehicle, the brand is now primed to take part in the most popular form of them all.
We’ll be competing with cars whose production counterparts cost nearly 10 times more than the RC F
According to Yukihiko Yaguchi, chief engineer of both the RC F GT3 and the RC F model on which the sports car was based, the RC F sports coupe was engineered with GT3 racing in mind, so the production car and the race car were developed simultaneously. Last winter the RC F GT3 made its world debut at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, declaring to the world that Lexus was serious about international sports car racing.
The RC F GT3 looks like a souped up version of its more accessible cousin. It shares the RC F’s basic body style, but it’s immediately evident that there’s a lot more bodywork here. Additional pieces, including a large rear wing, have been added to improve the car’s aerodynamics, allowing it to produce enough downforce to help keep the tires planted to the driving surface at high speed.
A peek inside the RC F GT3’s cabin reveals an extremely spartan interior. You’ll see none of the luxurious appointments of the stock RC F. Instead, every piece of equipment here serves a distinct purpose, while all the unnecessary elements – including the passenger seats – have been removed to reduce weight. Under the hood of the GT3 is a tuned version of the RC F’s engine.
In its first year on the battlefield, Lexus Racing will have to play catch-up with the competition; many existing race teams possess several years of experience in the GT3 class. Still, the prospect of going wheel-to-wheel with the likes of the McLaren 650S and the Ferrari 458 excites Yaguchi.
“We’ll be competing with cars whose production counterparts cost nearly 10 times more than the RC F,” he says as the RC F GT3 completes more laps, racing past technicians patiently waiting in the pits. “So of course it excites me that we have an opportunity to not only race with them – but also beat them.”