For those of us whose Lexus fandom extends into the domain of motorsports, past history has been filled with a good share of disappointment, especially in North America with the past demise of American Le Mans Series GT2S and Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype efforts, and lower-profile privateer attempts such as Team FBR/Trans Sport Racing, Auto Analyser Racing, Nickel Motorsports and DRC Motorsports.
Europe, too, has seen its share of Lexus racing dreams that fizzled out, such as LGT Engineering, MN Motorsport and Maurer Motorsport. Amidst these now-inactive Lexus motorsports efforts, a couple of initiatives do remain: Japan’s Super GT500 series, which saw the Lexus SC 430 compete between 2006 and 2013, when the baton was passed to the RC F coupe starting with the 2014 season; and the 7 appearances the Lexus LFA has made at the ADAC Zurich 24 Hours of Nürburgring race in Germany, beginning in 2008.
Now, however, the 8th entry of the Lexus LFA at this event (to be held from Thursday 14 May thru Sunday 17 May of this year) is in serious jeopardy, through events that are no fault of the carmaker. The VLN (Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring, or Association of Nürburgring Endurance Cup Organizers) holds an annual 10-race series with individual races lasting between 3.5 and 6 hours. This year’s season-opener took place on Saturday 28 March and was scheduled as a 4-hour event but was stopped during the 2nd hour when the #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 driven by GT Academy-winner Jann Mardenborough caught air at the Flugplatz (Airport) section of the track and went into a spectacular series of somersaults that ended in the Nissan going over the fencing around that area of the track, killing one spectator and injuring two others. (The Jalopnik account includes video of the crash).
As an immediate reaction to this tragedy, the DMSB (Deutscher Motor Sport Bund), Germany’s motor racing governing body, pending the investigation into the accident, announced a ban at the Nürburgring on GT3 and a number of GT4 cars and those competing in the SP7, SP8, SP9, SP10, SP-PRO and SP-X classes, including the upcoming 24-Hour race. Lexus’ LFA and its latest Code X variant compete in the SP8 and SP-PRO classes. Subsequently, The ban on SP10 cars was lifted as bans were added for Porsche Carrera Cup2 cars, H4 GT cars built before 2003, as well as the SP8T, E1-XP1, E1-XP2 and E1-XP Hybrid classes. This, of course, still leaves the Lexus LFA on the banned list.
Word also came of a Tuesday 7 April
…’round-table’ conversation with DMSB safety and technology experts, experienced professional drivers and amateur racers, as well as representatives of manufacturers, the circuit operators and representatives of the VLN and the 24 Hour race…
Rather than getting into a long and involved discussion here on what the fabled track and the various parties cited above should or shouldn’t do, we refer you to a couple of very informative articles: Death, Flugplatz, GT3s and what it all means by Dale Lomas of Bridge To Gantry and What The Hell Is Going On At The Nürburgring? by Robb Holland of Jalopnik.
If both those authors sound familiar, it’s with good reason. Dale Lomas, an expatriate Brit then working at Rent4Ring while moonlighting as Bridge To Gantry founder and editor, was first brought to our attention by our Asia editor Bertel Schmitt in his rebuttal and commentary piece to our late June 2012 story on the so-called AD-A Lexus LFA.
As for Robb Holland, in mid-July 2008 he contacted me with word of DRC Motorsports’ plans to salvage the remains of Lexus’ stillborn American Le Mans Series GT2S racers derived from the 2nd-generation Lexus IS sedan to create a SPEED World Challenge GT Series racer which he was expected to drive. The ensuing my.IS story, Yes, it’s for real! The Lexus IS F goes racing! caused enough of a stir that I consider it the second most significant article I’ve written for my.IS.
What about the Lexus RC? Is that banned from the Nürburgring as well?
Before we answer that question, we must emphasize the fact that there are 3 distinct Lexus RC-derived race cars, each with a different powerplant and other notable bodywork differences.
The first of these, shown above left, is the Lexus Racing Lexus RC F GT3. Debuting at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show and later shown in the United States at the 2014 SEMA Show in Las Vegas and at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, it is powered by a 540 DIN horsepower (533 SAE hp) version of the production RC F’s 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8. With the interior stripped to racing specification, it weighs just 1250 kg (2755 lbs). The RC F GT3 would likely race in the same SP8 Nürburgring class as the Lexus IS F CCS-R did just over a year ago and, as noted earlier, the LFA Code X. The ban is something of a moot point, however, as Sportscar365‘s John Dagys points out that the Lexus RC F GT3 (as well as the Lamborghini Huracán GT3) are missing from the FIA’s 2015 Balance of Performance for GT3 Specification. Nonetheless, the Super GT300-compliant #60 SYNTIUM LMcorsa Lexus RC F GT3 made its racing debut at Round 1 of the 2015 Super GT season, at Okayama International Circuit on Sunday 5 April 2015, where it made its way up the field from a 20th-place start to finish the race in 10th.
Above right is the Lexus Racing Super GT Lexus RC F. Conforming to the new-for-2014 Japanese GT500 class rules, it utilizes the 2-liter four-cylinder RI4AG direct-injection gasoline turbo engine, itself a derivative of the similarly-specced RI4A engine used in the Japanese Championship Super Formula racers. Although sources in Australia and New Zealand claim that the RI4A and RI4AG are loosely related to the Lexus NX 200t’s 8AR-FTS 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, we intend to reach out to Lexus sources for confirmation. Oh, and don’t let their outwardly similar appearance deceive you into thinking that the engines are the only major difference between the two Lexus Racing RCs shown above. Papot’s Motorsports blog features a very informative article on the aerodynamic airflow and ground effects differences between the GT500 and GT3 RC Fs. We should note, though, that the article is a Google translation from French (and, possibly, originally in Japanese), and comments that the RI4AG produces (much) over 500hp are odd in light of the fact that the GT500 series gets its name from the 500 hp maximum allowed.
The third and final Lexus RC racer, shown above, and the one officially slated to attack the Nürburgring in the 24-hour race this May is the Gazoo Racing Lexus RC. With no pretense at being an RC F of any sort, it is powered, per the official Gazoo Racing website by the Lexus NX 200t’s 8AR-FTS 2-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder dual direct+port injection engine coupled with an 8-speed automatic transmission (presumably the RWD RC 350’s AA81E unit or a derivative thereof). Power output is anybody’s guess. In production guise, the plethora of turbocharged, direct-injection 2-liter, 4-cylinder engines out there range from Volkswagen/Audi’s tame (and possibly underrated) 100 hp-per-liter to Mercedes-Benz’s monster “45 AMG”‘s 177.5 hp-per-liter. The current NX 200t weighs in at 117.5 hp-per-liter, while future production 200t versions of Lexus’ IS, RC and GS lines are rumored to be closer to 125 hp-per-liter. Lexus Enthusiast, citing Bridge To Gantry, claims that the Gazoo Racing Lexus RC will compete in the Nürburgring’s SP3T class, which is limited to 2.0L turbo engines and, as such, can certainly be expected to tear up the Green Hell next month.
As to the Lexus LFA Code X, bear in mind that this story is still unfolding and far from over. As some Internet commenters have noted, if the ban on all those vehicle classes is upheld through this year’s 24-hour race, the expected field would dwindle by as much as 2/3 of its habitual numbers. Beyond the sheer numbers is the fact that the banned cars are the highest-performance models that are the biggest public draws. For now, the best course of action is to sit back and see what emerges from tomorrow’s meeting. We at Kaizen Factor will certainly be following this story closely.
UPDATE: In the original version of this article, we ended the fourth-from-last paragraph (on the Lexus Racing Lexus RC F GT3) by stating that
In other words, Lexus’ announced 2015 plans for “a total of three vehicles built for Japan and Europe including the LM Corsa team in the Super GT GT300 class” sound iffy at best or, more accurately, subject to delay.
While that may be the case in Europe, the GT300-compliant #60 SYNTIUM LMcorsa Lexus RC F GT3 in fact made its racing debut at Round 1 of the 2015 Super GT season, at Okayama International Circuit on Sunday 5 April 2015. The article has been revised from the original to reflect this.