Better known as the Lexus SC300 to us Americans, the Toyota Soarer isn’t a regular sight on circuits. It’s a little porky, a little long, and the aftermarket is somewhat limited. However, it shares a great deal of strong suits with its sexier, sportier sibling: the fourth-generation Toyota Supra. Though quite large by sports car standards, the Soarer enjoys high-speed stability, a powerful motor, and excellent aerodynamics. In the hands of Kunihiko Bando, this carbon-clad Soarer shows just how capable an overweight, oversized, grand tourer is on one of the world’s most demanding circuits.
The long, fast bends of Sydney Motorsport Park are a large part of what makes the annual World Time Attack Challenge such an impressive spectacle. Privateers drive cars boasting quad-digit power, futuristic aerodynamics, and garish liveries around the 2.8-mile track faster than V8 Supercars. With the downforce some of the latest cars produce, the times have dropped even further, and the cornering speeds in the Fourth- and Fifth-gear corners are now frighteningly quick.
Though it has enough traction and agility to navigate narrow, technical courses like Tsukuba in impressive times, the big Soarer is better suited to quick circuits like Sydney Motorsport Park — especially since it now makes more power than ever before. While an odd platform to start with, some insist that the long-wheel-based GT car has even better aerodynamics than the Supra. Through the mortifying Turn 1, aerodynamic grip and large cojones make the difference.
Sculpted to Stick
One glimpse at the raw carbon hide, and it is evident that aerodynamics were of principal importance during the 15-year build. The flowing ducktail is one element that gives this car the sort of grip needed to totally exploit the power available. A massive rear wing, diving board-sized splitter, rear diffuser, and flat carbon underbody push the Soarer into the pavement, In the process, it makes it looks a lot friendlier than a car with these stats would appear to be.
In sculpting the shape of this car, Bando had the opportunity to improve aerodynamics and shave weight. The Lexan windows and carbon body panels, most of the latter made by SightHound, drop the car from approximately 3,500 pounds to a mere 2,590 pounds. Nearly a half-ton lighter, this once hefty Soarer rotates with an agility that belies its size — though the iron motor still makes it a bit nose-heavy.
There’s no denying the car has power in spades. A custom 3.1-liter 2JZ-GTE, filled with HKS pistons, Carillo rods, and a factory crankshaft, is force-fed by a Garrett G42-1450 turbo. That snail spits its pressurized air through a Hypertune intake manifold and a Bosch throttle body. When complemented with E85, it amounts to an outrageous 1,200 horsepower. That’s then funneled through an Albins ST6 sequential gearbox — now controlled by paddles — then onto the 295-section Yokohama Advan A050 tires, which put that power down surprisingly well.
Managing the Size
The reason its traction is impressive is that the Soarer’s balance isn’t ideal for a racing car. The iron block of the 2JZ motor makes it quite front-heavy, and lacking much weight over the rear tends to limit traction. Still, the Soarer’s rear end is compliant and sticky enough to put most of the power down without too much fuss, which is impressive considering Bando runs this car on street tires.
Watching the onboard lap, the Soarer’s shortcomings aren’t readily apparent. Though the front washes away slightly in slower corners, its a progressive slide doesn’t lead to any snap-oversteer. Considering the power on tap, that’s quite an achievement. While not the most agile car in the field, it is soft-edged and reasonably forgiving at the limit.
To harness the thrust in the tightest corners, Bando occasionally short-shifts (1:12), but most of the time, he’s able to stretch every gear without spinning the rear wheels. Only a few times does he have to dial in any opposite lock, but each slide looks manageable and predictable. Even with a dragster’s power propelling it, the stable Soarer is a big pussycat.
Pulling terrifying speeds through Turn 1, the Soarer is so stable and composed it’s hard to fathom. That stability and its tractable motor were enough to carry Bando to third in the Pro-Am category; just a tenth of a second behind an Audi R8 — arguably a better platform for road racing — outputting roughly 1,500 horsepower. To even compete at such a daunting circuit, against better-balanced cars with greater traction, is an impressive feat. To achieve a podium on a maiden attempt is something only a driver and car of this caliber could manage.