Sunday morning, Toyota unveiled a new car for competition in 2022 NHRA Funny Car competition as they switch from Camry to the GR Supra. The GR Supra will debut on track in February with the season-opener in Pomona, Calif.
This will be the fourth iteration of Toyota in Funny Car following the Camry, which has been in competition since 2012, the Solara (2007 – 2011) and the Celica (2000 – 2002).
“It’s very important to Toyota and TRD for the race cars on track try to have as much character in styling as the production showroom cars,” Andy Graves, Executive Engineer Technical Director, Toyota Racing Development told NBC Sports. “We take a lot of pride in that whether it’s NASCAR or now in NHRA to be able to have as much character as possible in that visibility for the fans, so they know that they can go and buy a car that closely resembles what their favorite driver is driving on track.”
Mirroring a race car to its production equivalent is challenging.
Aerodynamics don’t come into play as much on the interstate as on a racetrack where drag can costs fractions of a second in a sport where winning and losing can come down to inches sometimes.
“It’s been a huge challenge with this project and in getting the new Toyota GR Supra to look like the production counterpart,” Graves continued. “The dimensions of the car quite a bit different from a Funny Car to the production vehicle.
“The styling on the production vehicle has a lot of curvature and rear humps on the shoulders of the rear tires. That created a huge challenge to show that visibility and that styling in the car.”
Developing a new car means serving two masters. There are technical specifications that have to be met from the series’ side while the car has to appeal to the manufacturer and ultimately the fans.
“We’ve been really competitive with our current Toyota Camry,” Kalitta Motorsports Funny Car driver J.R. Todd told NBC Sports. “But I think this GR Supra brings us to the next level of the sport and maybe push the other manufacturers to catch up to us.
“I know the daily GR Supra I have turns a lot of heads on the street, so I think that this new body is definitely going to appeal to the younger demographic and hopefully make them J.R Todd, DHL fans because they like the GR Supra.”
And it isn’t only Toyota and TRD that sees the appeal in closely resembling the personality of race and street cars. Seeing what Toyota has done in NASCAR toward that goal, NHRA challenged Graves to replicate the real-world look and feel.
“The NHRA technical department challenged us, to be very frank,” Graves said. “They know and have seen what we’ve done on the NASCAR side with putting a lot more character into our race cars and that’s something that NHRA wants to capitalize on as well. To be able to get the fans excited and root for their favorite manufacturers and their favorite drivers, so for us to take that lead from how we operate in the NASCAR side of things and to be encouraged by the entire technical department, we were really excited then and it looks awesome.”
Toyota’s strong desire to closely mirror their street counterpart creates unique challenges. As consumers’ taste change, the design needs to as well, so don’t expect the version of the Supra to last 10 years like the Camry.
“So this special relationship that TRD has with Kelty Design, inside the global Toyota world actually started the relationship back in 2010,” Graves said. “And on the very first project we worked on was for the NHRA TRD Camry Funny Car. Fast forward and 10 years later to start working on the next version, we definitely wanted to put our stamp on to show how much more character we can put into a body than many of the other competitors that are out there already.
“We definitely have put a ton of character in it. You won’t see another Funny Car with as much character as ours, and that’s probably going to lead us to a point where this is not going last for 10 years. You’re probably going see a new car in four or five years because it’s got so much character. For us to do that we’re going to have to stay up with that and be able to come out with new models a little bit sooner than we did this time, which is also exciting.”
In addition to the augmented styling characteristics of the new GR Supra Funny Car, safety enhancements have also been made during the development of the new car. These include giving the driver more visibility while sitting behind the wheel and adding more room around their helmets along with additional safety foam in the driver’s cockpit of the GR Supra.
TRD worked closely with Todd, on many of the safety enhancements during the nearly two-year development process.