Can the Toyota GT86 drift? If you’ve read certain motoring magazine reviews you’d think there was absolutely no chance of spinning up its rear wheels, never mind drifting it. However, the fact that Toyota were basing this ‘Drift School’ event around their new two-seater coupe suggests that yes, the GT86 will drift.
More importantly, can I drift? My only previous attempt was in an automatic Vauxhall VXR8 on a wet skidpan and it didn’t go well. So could Toyota’s rear-wheel drive GT86 lend me a helping hand?
Sadly we wouldn’t be recreating the best moments from the Japanese Initial D comics, racing sideways down a twisting Japanese mountain road. The setup was far more simple. On a quiet section of tarmac at the Prodrive Performance Centre sat a collection of GT86s, shining in the glorious sunshine that Toyota had so kindly arranged for us.
Next to the cars were two 100-metre long sections of track, running in parallel, with three barrels at regular intervals down the centre. The idea was to drift a full 360 degrees around each barrel in turn as quickly as possible, with timed heats to decide the eventual winner. Touch a barrel or drop a wheel outside your lane and it was a five-second penalty. Precision was key.
On paper the Toyota GT86 sounds perfect for this. It has a 200bhp naturally aspirated 2.0-litre boxer engine that sends its power to rear wheels that are wrapped in relatively thin Michelin Primacy tyres. In itself that should be enough to break traction but a look in the cabin of one of the cars revealed an extra ingredient for on-demand oversteer – the handbrake button had been gaffer-taped down! A quick yank of the handle would be more than enough to get the Toyota’s tail sliding but only if the traction control was disengaged, otherwise any hint of oversteer would result in an electronic slap from the ESP system.
With 25 competitors it was going to be a busy day and we were split between four cars. I was one of the first out on the practice runs with the words of our instructor echoing in my ears. First gear all the way. As you approach the barrel dip the clutch, turn and yank the handbrake. Release handbrake and clutch and get on the gas to get the rear wheels spinning. Then control the drift with accelerator and steering wheel, and don’t forget to unwind the lock. Simples!
As luck would have it I did pretty well on my first run. No spinning or stalling, a bit scrappy, but it could just about be called ‘drifting’. I was off to a good start but was it beginner’s luck? The second run wasn’t so good and I forgot to dip the clutch, with the rear wheels stubbornly refusing to lock up when I applied the handbrake. Bah, idiot!
After a few more practice runs I was feeling confident and I had my time down to a competitive 24.4 seconds, but that was before conditions changed. Sadly the residents living near Prodrive’s HQ had taken exception to the constant squealing of tortured tyres and three complaints had been received. If that total reached five the event would be stopped and so Toyota placed a call to the emergency services! A fire engine turned up and doused the track in water, cutting down on the noise but completely changing the grip levels.
And so it came to the timed runs. Unfortunately I was first out and too cautious on my first run, fearful of the lack of grip and spinning the car. The result was a sloth-like 29 seconds but I was encouraged to find more grip than I expected. My second time was better at 26 seconds but still nowhere near my best.
My third and last run was to be ‘the one’ – I gunned the throttle off the line, lined up the GT86’s nose for a tight pass around the first barrel, dropped the clutch, yanked the handbrake and the tail swung out perfectly. Now back onto the throttle and … disaster! The engine bogged down, the rear wheels regained purchase on the tarmac and the GT86 lurched to a halt, the engine stalling as it did so. Those vital seconds restarting the engine and switching off the ESP seemed like an eternity and by the time I reached the finish line the damage was done – an awful 44 seconds.
That was it, my timed runs were over and for the next hour I watched the competition, certain I wasn’t going to make it through to the top 16 knockout stage. Sadly that proved to be true but not because my time wasn’t in the top 16, as I scraped in with 15th fastest qualifying time. Alas, the delays caused by the complaints meant that there wasn’t time for the planned qualifying rounds and only the top 4 fastest drivers would fight for the trophy. I’d been robbed of another go in the GT86!
The final rounds were very, very closely fought and the winning time was 22.9 seconds. With trophies awarded it was time to go home, meaning I had to leave the 200bhp rear-wheel drive GT86 behind and head home in my underpowered, front-wheel drive diesel.
Toyota’s Drift School was great fun and the smiling faces on the other drivers meant I wasn’t the only one enjoying it. It was also a great way of increasing awareness and appreciation of the GT86 and its abilities, even if potential customers are unlikely to do anything like this in their own GT86.
Although I only got to drive the GT86 for short runs and only used first and second gear I was still left with an impression that this is a great driver’s car. 200bhp is enough to make it decently quick and that rear-drive chassis is beautifully balanced. It truly flattered my (lack of) drifting skills and I felt like I could have held it at crazy angles indefinitely, Michelins disintegrating into tiny fragments. Don’t worry, I’m under no illusions that I could give Drift King Keiichi Tsuchiya a run for his money, but I was hugely impressed at how easy it was to balance the GT86. Would it feel as good on the road? That’s a story for another day, but there’s no doubt that in this test it was very, very good.
Toyota are already looking at ideas for similar events next year. Based on this first Drift School I’ll be keen to go back and give it another go!