Toyota sets out to stop Sprint Cup engine woes

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Horsepower hasn’t been the problem for Toyota’s engines this season in the Sprint Cup series. Neither is a lack of wins – Toyota Racing Development motors have earned five of them this season, all coming from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp.

But durability has definitely been an issue for TRD, which has had to deal with multiple engine failures along the way. That’s frustrating enough, but then you have to consider some of the times when those motors have blown up. In the season-opening Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were fighting for the lead when they lost their engines within minutes of each other. Then, last weekend at Dover, TRD failures stopped strong runs to the front for both Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr (pictured).

With another tough test on engines coming up tomorrow at Pocono Raceway, TRD met with its two main teams, JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing, on Friday to discuss what the group is planning to do in order to create more durable motors.

New TRD acting president and general manager David Wilson admitted to the Associated Press that their motors will take “a little bit of a step back in performance” as part of the process, but also feels that TRD’s multiple wins this year is proof that they can get a handle on things.

“I’d much rather be in this position of saying, ‘We’ve got the performance, now we need to focus on the durability,”‘ he told the AP. “We’ve got a little bit of security with a couple of our drivers having notched a couple of wins.”

One of the TRD-powered drivers, JGR’s Denny Hamlin, said that he was disappointed about the changes but felt that they were ultimately necessary.

“Obviously, they want their first championship, so they’re going to do everything they can to get that,” Hamlin said at Pocono. “I feel like in the off-season, they obviously took a great step forward in power — it showed up on the race track the first 13 weeks and with some issues, now we have to dial it back some and see what the payoff is from power to reliability.

“Because ultimately, with this points system, you have to finish these races and that’s what all the teams identify.”

Three TRD-powered drivers – Clint Bowyer, Kenseth and Kyle Busch – are currently in the Top 10 of the Cup standings.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”