The 2016 Festival of 86, a national celebration of Toyota's cult sports car, is set to draw dedicated owners and enthusiast admirers from all over the country when it kicks off in Canberra this Saturday (May 7). This is the third Festival of 86 held in Australia since the car was released locally in mid-2012, with the Sutton Road Driver Training Centre ready to entertain hundreds of Toyota 86 fanatics with a free-of-charge celebration event.

Highlights include race car passenger hot laps on the centre's 2.5km road course for lucky draw winners, drift rides on the skid pan, and of course an amazing array of machinery on show. Extensively modified custom cars will fill a large central display area, with classic sports Toyota models, including the iconic AE86 Corolla, mid-engine MR2, Celica Coupe and Supra GT, also forming a dedicated historic exhibit.

Toyota Australia is using the event to launch its one-make Toyota 86 Racing Series, which will be contested at selected V8 Supercars rounds, starting at the Winton SuperSprint (May 20-22). The Toyota 86 Racing Series is designed to provide an entry point and training ground for up-and-coming drivers, with Toyota adding guest professional racers (several of whom will be running hot laps at Sutton Road) at every round to help mentor amateur entrants.

The 86's global chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, a rock star in the world of 86 enthusiasts, is travelling from Japan and will be on hand to sign autographs on everything from components, including the car's dash panel and engine cover, to model cars, T-shirts, owner's manuals and posters. Toyota Australia executive director sales and marketing Tony Cramb said the festival's continuing popularity is further evidence of Australia's ongoing love affair with the 86.

"With over 16,000 cars sold in just on four years on sale, Australia is the 86's largest market per-capita in the world," Cramb said. "Previous Festival of 86 events have drawn big crowds of passionate people from all over the country, and we're excited to be supporting its third running," he said.

Entry to the event is free, and includes food and drink vouchers, as well as tickets to go in the draw for road course and skid pan hot laps. There's also a range of Toyota 86 and Toyota 86 Racing Series merchandise available, as well as face painting, glitter tattoos and balloon sculptures for junior 86 fans in The Kids Zone.

Registration, via the Eventbrite ticketing portal is essential, and only those holding valid tickets will be allowed entry. Gates will open at 10:00am and the event is scheduled to finish with a grand parade lap at 3:00pm.

Aaron Seton, son of V8 Supercars Hall of Fame inductee Glenn and grandson of 1965 Bathurst winner Barry, has signed on the dotted line for all five rounds of the Toyota 86 Racing Series in 2016. Determined to extend the Seton motor racing dynasty into a third generation, the young-gun amateur racer was the first entrant to confirm their participation as entries for the much-anticipated Toyota 86 Racing Series officially opened.

Following a step-up from karts in 2014, 17-year old Aaron has since made his mark in GT and production car competition. Bearing one of the most famous names in Australian motorsport, he says he is eager to further his progress in a series designed to encourage and support emerging talent.

With sponsorship support from Sci-Fleet Hino, plus his famous father overseeing the build and on-going development of his car, not to mention managing test and race operations, Aaron is off to a flying start.

"I've got a lot to live up to, with dad and pop's success," Aaron said. "But heading into this series, I see their experience and support as a big advantage, and I'm keen to make them proud," he said.

Underpinned by a straightforward and relatively affordable technical spec, the Toyota 86 Racing Series provides the perfect platform for competitors to learn and develop their skills. A high-performance, low-cost mandatory race package developed by Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM), enhances the 86's natural balance and agility. The NBM kit focuses primarily on the suspension tune, exhaust, braking, wheels and engine management.

To further assist driver development, Toyota is also adding selected professional racers to the starting line-up, with different drivers brought in throughout the season. These nominated drivers are not eligible for prizemoney; their primary role being to mentor regular competitors by sharing tips on everything from race-craft and driving technique to engineering set-up and team structure.

In Aaron Seton's case, mentoring and tips from a pro (or two) are things he definitely won't be short of.

The Toyota 86 Racing Series

The Toyota 86 Racing Series is an initiative designed to provide an entry point and training ground for up-and-coming drivers, offering a confirmed prize pool of $125,000. Open to all manual variants of Toyota's cult-classic sports car*, the series is part of the support program at selected rounds of the Australian V8 Supercars championship. In 2016 the Toyota 86 Racing Series will run over five events: May 20-22 (Winton SuperSprint), August 26-28 (Sydney Motorsport Park SuperSprint), September 16-18 (Sandown 500), October 6-9 (Bathurst 1000) and November 25-27 (Sydney 500).

My Drive this week was the Toyota Eighty Six. Or is it Eight Six? I think most people are familiar with Eighty Six, so I’ll go with that. The Eighty Six is Toyota’s first sports car in a long time, and was developed in partnership with Subaru, which also sells their own version, called the BR-Z. When it first appeared on the Australian market three years ago, it heralded a return to sports cars by the Japanese company that many said was long overdue. What I think is really amazing though is that despite not making any form of sports car for around a decade or more, Toyota really managed to nail it on the head with the 86. It looks good, sounds good, and most importantly, drives really good! Let’s take a look.

The Toyota 86 is a sleek looking two door coupe, and the company says it’s inspired by its more successful sports cars of old, the 2000GT and the Corolla Sprinter 86. It’s got that aggressive stance, particularly thanks to the angry headlights. The body follows the lines of your typical coupe, curving upwards for the cabin and then downwards towards the rear. It looks great and just feels right, and this is a theme throughout the 86 actually – it gets the feel, the balance right for a sports car throughout.

Once we jump inside you can see where the inspiration for the cockpit came from. Dashboard switches and knobs are all inspired by the simple levers you find in a race car, while the instrument cluster is defined by its large tachometer with a digital speedo – again, perfect. The seats snuggle up to you and have loads of lateral support to keep you firmly in place, but they’re soft and comfortable. They’re a lovely place to be, as long as it’s in the front. Yes, this car does somehow manage to find the room for two back seats as well, but it’s a tiny amount of room only and I wouldn’t want to go back there unless I absolutely had to. They’re really for emergency use only. The boot is the same story – it’s positively tiny with only 217 litres of space to use.

But we’re not here to start transporting cargo with this car, we’re here to drive it. And driving is what the 86 does so well. It’s powered by a two litre, four cylinder boxer engine courtesy of Subaru. It’s been tuned to produce a maximum 147 kilowatts of power, which is pretty high for a naturally aspirated two litre engine. Torque tops out at 205 Newton-metres all the way up at 6400 revs, so you can see the kind of torque map Toyota was going for here – very high-rev focused. For racing, that’s perfect. The engine mates with a six speed manual or six speed automatic, connecting to the rear wheels through a limited slip differential. So that’s the specs, but the driving? In a word – balance. I tested the manual variant and I was amazed at the responsiveness of the 86. It reacts immediately to the accelerator pedal, which helps you take off smoothly and quickly. The engine is very relaxed and calm until around 2500 RPM, when the torque begins to seriously increase as you head towards the 7400 RPM redline. The gearshift has a medium throw and slots through the gears with such smoothness that feels just so satisfying.

And the engine sound. This isn’t the same boxer engine you find in a WRX or anything like that. It sounded like someone had ripped out the exhaust system from my test car and bolted on a hot dog muffler or something. Well maybe not that bad, but that was the kind of sound – the sound all small engine sports cars should have. The temptation to push the car past 3000 RPM just to hear that sound was just so strong and believe me, I lost that battle many times. It’s a beautiful sound and one that longs for a racetrack to be unleashed. The 86 would be right at home on a racetrack, not least because of its handling. This car is perfectly in tune with the driver – turn the wheel and almost instantly the car turns. It stays flat and composed, and even building speed around the corners, it keeps its composure until you really push it, when the rear begins to break traction and drift. At this point the stability control will catch the car, but you can turn on a sports profile for the stability control that will allow the car a touch more oversteer before bringing it back to line. It ensures the safety of the car, but it also ensures even more fun. The suspension is taut and firm to enable this level of handling, while the braking system does its job with aplomb, pulling up the car with more than enough ease.

Toyota offers the 86 in two variants. The entry level GT comes standard with 16 inch alloy wheels, cruise control, seven airbags and a reverse camera that runs on a 6.1 inch touchscreen with USB and Bluetooth. The top spec GTS adds to this with a load of convenience features – proximity keyless entry, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, climate control air, leather seats and satellite navigation. You can also get an option pack for the GTS that gives the 86 an even more aggressive body kit, including an oversized rear spoiler.

The 86 is on sale from $29,990 dollars plus on-road costs. If you enjoy going to track days or for any form of light racing really, the 86 will be an absolute blast. As I said at the start, it looks good, sounds good, and drives really good too. It has to be one of the most balanced sports cars I’ve ever driven. That’s it for me this week.

August 29th 2015
Albert Malik