The Team TAPG Toyota 86 is as much a tool for training and development as it is a successful racecar.

When Team TAPG Motorsports wanted to start a racing team, they did it pretty much the same way anyone else would: They went out and found a donor car, installed roll cage and installed the parts needed to go racing.

The team had a slight advantage, though. For one, the team is comprised of engineers who work at the Toyota Arizona Proving Grounds, so there’s an abundance of brain power. Two, the car they found was a 2013 Scion FRS that was internally leased to a Toyota employee. When they got the car, it only had 30,000 miles on it, and even then, the FRS had only been on sale for about a year. Third, they had some support from Toyota corporate, which fosters team-building exercises for its employees across North America. And what could be better a better team-building exercise than building a racing team, right?

“Aside from my own personal interest in wanting to run, it made a lot of sense in terms of trying to incorporate multiple people,” said driver and team captain, DJ Quint. “If we pushed the endurance option, we needed people besides just guys who could drive.”

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With a core group of people dedicated to the team, including highly skilled engineers and test drivers, the team began campaigning the car in NASA’s HPDE, sprint racing and Time Trial, depending on who was driving and what stage of the process they were in pursuing their competition licenses.

The team had the car classed in PTD, but there was more competition in PTC in NASA Arizona, so they bumped up. They were a little outgunned in PTC and the points structure was limiting for them, so they welcomed the new Super Touring rules structure. The new rules let them pull about 150 pounds out of the car and be classed into ST5, which made them more competitive. The new rules also put them into the E2 endurance class.

However, as the team learned, endurance racing is about much more than how well a car fits into a power-to-weight ratio, and it seemed like for every forward step the team made, it regressed by the same measure or more.

“We kept having a lot of silly mistakes, and they kept covering up our gains,” Quint said. “So, the first year we went to Miller (Utah Motorsports Campus), we were actually quite competitive on pace, but tire wear was terrible, and we had a fuel spill, so I think we finished fourth. Considering we did a four-tire change and had a fuel-spill penalty, that was really awesome, but if you looked at it on paper, you’d think the FRS was just kind of meh.”

Team TAPG Motorsports’ engineers took the analytical approach — and they analyzed everything. They refined their processes. They streamlined their pit stops. They optimized their equipment. They also replaced the stock tank with a larger fuel cell, which gave them a longer window of operation, but also let them use all the fuel in the fuel cell and minimize the chance for fuel-spill penalties. And they started winning.

“It wasn’t really a function of us doing something magical, as much as it was just that we didn’t make a mistake. All the things we were working on, they all worked, and we didn’t have some dumb thing bringing us back down,” Quint explained. “It’s not easy because it took a long time, but then it was like we figured out the right way to do 10 different things and when you finally get all 10 things working, all of the sudden you’ve got margin in every area. So, if you do mess up or you’ve got a slower driver this race, or the tires aren’t perfect or whatever, it’s OK because your pit stops are awesome or your second driver is really good or your fuel mileage is great because you’ve been working on that, too.”

The successes on track were great, and that’s the point of racing, but for Team TAPG Motorsports, some of the successes also began to pay off at the Arizona Proving Grounds. Now the drivers on the team are instructors, who train even more Toyota engineers in the company test-driver licensing program. Quint said upper management supported the team because they thought it was good for team-building and camaraderie, but it’s also paying off because some of the younger, less-experienced engineers on the team are learning valuable skills at a much more rapid pace than they normally would in the course of their jobs.

The team is able to take advantage of the resources at the Proving Ground, such as lifts and alignment racks and tools. Also, because the car and the team are headquartered at the Proving Ground, they can have face-to-face team meetings in the lunchroom and work on the car together after hours.

“We work at a proving ground. We’re all developing cars, so it allows us to kind of constantly be assessing the tradeoffs between control arms or weight or power or whatever it is, wheels, tires, brakes,” Quint said. “We get to constantly be assessing what makes the most sense from our engineering standpoint.”

The team has since added a second car, and old Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Pro Challenge FRS that wasn’t used anymore. They use it for driver development in HPDE and Time Trial and as a full working spare for when the team went to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. They also used the spare car right up until qualifying at the 25, so they wouldn’t wear out the racecar. They’ll be returning to the 2019 25 Hours of Thunderhill, with the same team of dedicated engineers, three TAPG drivers and Randy Pobst, who drove for their team last year.

“One of our biggest resources is people. With any endurance team, you need people to be successful, and we have that built in,” Quint said. “That’s one of our biggest advantages. I work at a place with a bunch of car-crazy people already. They want to help. It’s a matter of effectively leveraging the resources. It is a management problem, and that’s been the biggest thing to try to unlock. Once I figured out how to motivate them and keep them engaged and make sure they were helping us go faster, then it really starts working. Now it’s a little bit easier, because everybody is learning more and knows how to do more, so I don’t have to explain so much. They just go. They see the issue at the same time I do, and they can just take care of it.”

Owner: Toyota Arizona Proving Grounds
Year: 2013
Make: Toyota
Model: 86
Weight: 2,850 lbs. w/ driver
Engine/Horsepower: FA20 boxer four-cylinder/ 184 whp
Transmission: Stock Six Speed
Suspension – Front: Motion Control two-way nonremote, stock control arms, Vorshlag camber Plates
Suspension – Rear: Motion Control two-way nonremote, stock control arms
Tires – Front: 245/40R17 Hoosier R7
Tires – Rear: 245/40R17 Hoosier R7
Brakes – Front: AP Racing four-piston Sprint Kit with Carbotech pads
Brakes – Rear: Stock rotor/caliper with Carbotech pads
Data system: Autosport Labs RaceCapture Pro
Sponsors: Toyota North America, Hoosier Racing Tires, Motion Control Suspension, Carbotech Brakes, Essex/AP Racing.
Image courtesy of Brett Becker

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