This past April, Toyota invited a handful of Washington DC area automotive journalists to join them at Summit Point Raceway to see two original manufacturer built minivans, not customized racecars, compete in the One Lap America race series. Toyota USA’s Engineering and Marketing departments were campaigning a Sienna R-Tuned Concept and a Sienna SE+ during the week-long – multi-state racing event, that is One Lap America. Where they were raced all day, then driven hundreds of miles to the next track at night to get back on the track and race again the next day.
Toyota brought on Top Gear America’s, Rutledge Wood, a bearded hipster TV reality show host, as well as Grand-Am Rolex GT Champion race driver Craig Stanton, to pilot these vans, and a crew to support them as they raced the week away, with everyone working together like a seasoned race team.
Toyota’s purpose was both promotional, and an engineering one. Showing off that Toyota’s best-selling Sienna minivan could compete heartily with serious racecars, but also as an opportunity for the engineering team to tweak the van for better overall drivability in everyday situations and longevity.
A Toyota Sienna R-Tuned Concept vehicle, interior stripped out, caged with a custom suspension, and many modifications the Sienna SE+, tricked out with TRD Badging, on the shifter and oil cap, dark tinted lights and Pirelli P Zero tires, and the fluids replaced to better perform under racing conditions. Inside the SE+, sans roll cage, the seats were slipped in for passengers, or removed when out on the racetrack in competition. While both vans were labeled “Concept”, each appeared to be using off the shelf parts and products that any amateur racer could get.
During a break in the racing, a van load of the DMV Scribes drove the Sienna SE+ on Summit’s Main course. While none of us were as track savvy as the competitive team from Toyota, it was fun to get a minivan loaded with adults and seats on a race track, then see it stripped and back out racing minutes later in Wood’s capable hands.
Toyota and Racing: Toyota vehicles racing is nothing new, from enthusiast’s auto crossing Scion’s to Camry’s chasing round the NASCAR oval; Toyota Trucks going at it in the dessert in an off-road rally; Lexus IS F-Sport in a street race. Toyota has a racing brand, TRD, that you see proudly on street vehicles, pretty much everywhere you go. But the common family hauler, the Sienna minivan, that is not what is thought of when the topic of competitive racing is discussed.
This was one of those times where automakers wanting to appeal to that “younger Dad”, And make him think of motorsports and minivan in the same sentence. Instead of wrestling with the admission one has achieved stable adulthood and needs to transport their kids, friends of the kids, the dog, and a variety of belongings, around suburbia.
With this One Lap America experience, Toyota is not only showing that the family haulers can be the equivalent to racecars, as these two Sienna minivans indeed hauled it down the racetrack with the best of them, often competing with high-power performance monsters. In the end the team completed the week-long event in first place with 160 points, 65 more than its Acura MDX competitor, the other entrant in the Truck/SUV class.
One Lap America is the ultimate road trip, stopping at 12 different tracks over 8 days, in 7 different states. One Lap America is a race series for the enthusiasts sponsored by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine and Tire Rack. Starting in 1984 this is the 32nd year running. A legendary race, made even more so by the movie Cannonball Run.
More information on the Sienna One Lap program and the Toyota Engineering Motorsports team can be found at SiennaOneLapofAmerica.com as well as on toyotaengineeringmotorsports.com. In addition, fans can follow along via Toyota’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels.
Information on the One Lap of America event can be found at OneLapofAmerica.com.
As they say while out racing, “Keep the Shinny Side UP!”
Words and Photos by William West Hopper