PH Goes Sprinting. In A 19-year-Old Toyota

Toyota isn't a brand presently associated with PH-type activity. Despite blowing inconceivable amounts of cash on an underperforming F1 challenge that seemed precariously short on passion, it's years since you could buy a new Celica or MR2, and even further back since the days of the MR2-Celica-Supra trio, TTE-fielded rally cars and sports prototypes such as the 89C-V and the GT-One.

Nerves build...
Nerves build...
But maybe there's hope in the form of current CEO and family descendant Akio Toyoda, said to be a devoted petrolhead; the LF-A, and most importantly of all, the long-awaited FT-86 coupe.

Perhaps sensing the prevailing wind, Toyota UK is sponsoring both the 750MC MR2 Championship and the Toyota Sprint Series. The latter in particular is pitched as genuine, grass-roots motorsport, and when the invite came though to participate in the first round of the series, we jumped at the chance.

But what car to compete in? MR2 specialist Rogue Motorsport suggested a car of their own, but given the grass roots nature of the series we had a better idea: you can't get more 'grass roots' than turning up in a 19-year old Mk2 MR2 (UK Rev2 GT) that hasn't been on the road properly in seven years, mainly sitting outside rotting. It's my car - a sadly neglected family friend of many years that I've been trying to resurrect over recent months with limited success - time, money, motivation, work space: the usual excuses. Now there's just a week to sort it all out...

Thursday 6pm:

...a bit more...
...a bit more...
Rogue Motorsport's expansive new workshops are quiet by the time I arrive to pick up the car, equipped with a new clutch, cambelt and brake fluid, among other items. A couple of weeks ago I was pedalling a Cayman R up a hairpin-infested mountainside for PH, but strangely I'm more excited at the thought of the drive home this evening. It's a pride thing.

So far so good: nothing has fallen off. Brilliant.

Still nothing has fallen off, but it feels a bit weird on this ancient rubber - three different brands, one very slow puncture, and one on the markers - so what can you expect? Then I remember the raised eyebrow of the Rogue mechanic when discussing the health of my car's suspension. Note to self: don't expect miracles of handling and road holding - it's knackered.

...and still more...
...and still more...
Friday 5pm:
Still don't have any tyres, and time is rapidly running out. The rear boots on an MR2 are unusual - 225/50 R15: wide, squat and plump, basically - so it really restricts the appropriate tyre manufacturers to choose from. In the end we settle on some A048s - Yokohama's sticky, semi-slick road/track tyre. We might be feeble in the engine room, but we won't be lacking in mechanical grip at the contact patch. Can't quite believe it, but this might actually happen after all...

Sunday 6am:
Early start: check oil and pressures and get on the road. What a great feeling to be driving to a circuit with a day's competition ahead of you, it's an emotion worth the entry price alone.


...before our Adam is finally off
...before our Adam is finally off
Arrival at the circuit heralds a farce on my part. In reality, the signing-on procedure is all very simple, but when you're new to everything it can seem a bit overwhelming. So I park the MR2 in the wrong place, move it - still wrong - and then realise I've forgotten the necessary paperwork. And then the MOT, as well. Oh dear. Poor start.

Our plan has backfired. Far from giving us an unfair advantage, the sticky Yokos mean we've been bumped up to Class C Pro: against the opposition in that class, we might as well have entered a wheelbarrow...


There's the Toyotas  you'd expect...
There's the Toyotas you'd expect...
Scrutineering. It's an odd feeling having a group of officials prod, pull and waggle bits of your car, and I'm suddenly feeling very nervous as to what they might find objectionable. As it happens, all I get back is a wry smile - 'don't those tyres cost more than the car mate'? - and a 'passed' sticker in the corner of the windscreen. They don't seem bothered by my other 'modification': lightweight 'evo' spec rear inner arches, or in other words, daylight and some ferrous oxide...

It's time for a sighting lap of the course before the first of our eight runs of the day; a single lap of the banked circuit at Rockingham with chicanes, and both fast and slow corners artificially created with the help of cones. The start is just inside the pitlane facing the wrong way, followed by a 180-degree turn onto the start/finish straight. Can't help a slight tinge of disappointment that we're not using the infield circuit...


...and ones you wouldn't
...and ones you wouldn't
Any disappointment is banished. The first lesson of sprinting has been learnt: forget how short and simple the course seems - the joy of sprinting is twofold. Firstly, there's the battle against the clock and the trimming of time, and then there's the addictive competitive element with other cars in the field. I note that after a 'run' my car smells like a lawnmower: think it's what happens when an old, oily, exposed engine resides close to a lawn cuttings stack. What was that about 'grass roots'...?

Pause for lunch and time to take stock, have an amble around and talk shop with fellow competitors. We've knocked whole seconds off our time so far, and aren't last. There's a terrific mix of sporting Toyotas here today: wildly modified Celicas with up to 700bhp, rapid MR2 Turbos with yelping dump valves, a gnarly ST165 Celica in TTE colours, Supras and even an IQ.


Ridiculous, sublime. But which is which??
Ridiculous, sublime. But which is which??
Must be getting towards the car's limit as just tenths are being shaved off now with each run. Any mechanical sympathy has long gone out the window. The Yokos are providing incredible grip even without, I suspect, getting fully up to temperature, although the cars feels a bit odd on them, moving around laterally mid-corner thanks to the tired dampers and bushes.

The biggest weakness isn't the engine, but the brakes: despite the new fluid it's like pushing your foot into a vat of mushy peas. The only really fast corner turns against the outer concrete wall of the banking, and it takes a while to build the resolve for taking it flat in the top of 'third'. Lose it here and you'll need a skip and a broom ...


It's the final run and, feeling slightly guilty, I leave my car parked and jump in Rogue's Super GT/Britcar 24hr Mk3 MR2 V6 racer. With a 3.5-litre 2GR-FE engine (as used in the Lotus Evora) pushing out 300bhp, a completely stripped interior and wild body addenda, it has the look of one of those Japanese Super GT machines that's been shrunk in the wash.

It also possesses perhaps the finest V6 induction note I've ever heard in a car, which drills through the Arai and makes all your bones rattle. It's quick, too, at 300bhp/ton, with beautifully sensitive and direct steering to rival an Elise's. This time the course really is too short, but it's a tantalising taste of a fascinating car.


In the final standings we're 32nd out of 40 listed entrants: not brilliant, but could be worse. Obviously, the MR2 was bottom of its class, but behind us are a group of what appear to be tuned MR2 Turbos and Celica GT4s (running on street tyres it must be said). That'll do. The winner of Class C Street sums up the championship best with his 150,000-mile, lowered Celica ST daily driver: as he says, only a Toyota could rack up the miles like that, get thrashed around a track and still never blow up. I can't help feeling in its own way my car adds weight to that theory...

Nothing helps you bond with your car like competition, even more so than a track day. The drive home is a happy one.

The MR2 seems content too: there's a significant job list to attend to, but it's running sweeter and faster after its exercise. Sprinting has proved brilliant fun, and the Toyota series a friendly way to go about it. I can't recommend it enough.

If you want to find out more pop on over to, and our thanks also go to the folks at Rogue Motorsport

Comments (44) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Zircon 12 May 2011

    PaulGT3 said:
    Why are people saying the SW20 is under-rated? They make a great GT car and the turbo's are quick but they aren't a very good drivers car and it would be my last choice for a sprint car.

    Steering is light and vague, handling is less than pin sharp, N/A engine needs to be absolutely thrashed and even then its no rocketship, all in all it makes for a dull and uninspiring drive. I should know I bought a mint 1999 Rev 5 GT last year and it sits in the garage barely used as my £500 Xsara VTS is much more fun to drive!
    Steering light and vague? Completely disagree - If anything I find it a bit too heavy, but the feedback is great. My E46 is light.

    Nobody said the N/A was a rocket ship. It doesn't need to be to have fun on a track. It seems your Xsara has a 0-60 time of 8 seconds. The 1993 MR2 N/A will do it in 7.2. Faster than your Citroen, more power and all from the same size of engine.

    Handling less than pin sharp. Agreed - but it is not an Elise / VX220 which you could describe as pin sharp. Put some new Bilstein struts that were OEM for some SW20 models, or better still some coilovers onto the MR2 and it is a pleasure to drive. In most cases you are looking at cars at or around 20 years old. Hardly fair to compare tired suspension to newer cars with much fresher stuff. What other £1k cars would you suggest that gave 'pin sharp' handling and rocket ship performance for that price?

    If they are uninspiring cars to drive then why do they have a massive following, 2 race series and a good number of specialist parts manufacturers all over the world?

    I would suggest your '99 is not as mint as you thought and could do with a suspension and tire change. Try driving an equivallent sports car of its time and then drive yours.

    Edited by Zircon on Thursday 12th May 12:37

    Edited by Zircon on Thursday 12th May 12:46

    Edited by Zircon on Thursday 12th May 22:16

  • carinaman 12 May 2011

    Check the video:

    'When MR2s go bad'? wink

  • Adam Towler 11 May 2011

    Thanks for the kind comments,

    The car looks a bit better now compared to the photos as I'm slowly working my way around with the machine polisher... although not slowly enough in places... I've also got some freshened O.E. wheels too.

    Need to sort the rust next, then the brakes and suspension.

    I know the SW20 has its flaws, but it has many strengths too, and it's amazing value at the moment.

    Will update on all this later in the year if I can...

  • Prolex-UK 11 May 2011

    I compete in this series in my Lexus IS350...great fun

  • norwichphoto 11 May 2011

    carl_w said:
    WIW, I don't know about the MR2 sprint championship but in all the ones I'm registered in you must retain the interior to compete in the Production and Roadgoing classes. Plenty of people do it in their day-to-day road cars.
    Within TSS rules some classes allow for different levels of trim removal. However, removing front passenger and rear seats makes a surprising difference to weight, and may help you jump a place or two up the rankings.

    As long as everyone reads and understands the rules of the class that they are racing in, they'll know what they can and cannot do.

    Problems only arise when people run their car in multiple series, and you have to make sure you comply with all rules and regulations.

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