When it comes to performance Toyotas, most people will straight away think of the Supra or the AE86, and for good reason – these cars have become Japanese icons in their own right. But one model that can’t be discounted is the MR2.
And what I’m about to show you from South Africa, must be one of the wildest race examples ever built.
On the market from 1984 to 2007, spanning three generations, the rear-wheel drive MR2 was actually Japan’s first mid-engined production car.
The first two generations of the model were hardtops (with a T-top option), but for the third generation car, the ZZW30, Toyota decided to take a different approach and turned it into a convertible. This version of the MR2 was marketed as the Toyota MR-S (Midship Runabout-Sports) in Japan, Toyota MR2 Spyder in the US, and the Toyota MR2 Roadster in Europe.
What a lot of people don’t know – myself included before doing this feature – is that the ZZW30 has some proper racing pedigree.
Between 2000 and 2008, several racing teams ran the MR-S in Super GT, which was known as the JGTC prior to the 2004 season. In 2002, Morio Nitta and Shinichi Takagi shared the GT300 drivers’ championship in the Arta MR-S. Team Reckless’s MR-S won both drivers’ and teams’ championships in 2005, driven by Kota Sasaki and Tetsuya Yamano.
And for 2007, Kazuya Oshima and Hiroaki Ishiura shared the drivers’ championship in the Toy Story APR MR-S, with wins at Okayama and Sepang, but lost the teams’ championship by six points to the Mooncraft Shiden prototype racer of team Privée Kenzo Asset Shiden. Also worthy of mention is the ’00 Toyota/Super Autobacs/A’PEX MR-S, which was a really quick car, and a Lightning McQueen-themed car supported by Disney Japan, which is pretty cool.
At the start of their JGTC/Super GT life, the MR-Ss ran with 3S-GTE turbo engines, but eventually switched over to the more powerful and reliable 2GR-FE V6 3.5L units.
Pieter Zeelie, the owner of this MR2 took all of this racing history and information into consideration when he was deciding on his ideal race car build. Completely stock when Pieter bought it, the goal was to build up the Toyota into a real contender for hill climbs, time attack and more traditional circuit racing.
The Toyota was initially built by Freddie Pretorius of FAST Developments, but since then it’s been further developed by Pieter and his own team with Freddie’s assistance from time to time.
The first thing to talk about is the most obvious – the APR Super GT wide-body kit. The kit in its entirety wasn’t actually used; it was more of a mix and match with various other locally-made parts.
Starting at the front, there’s an APR front bumper that’s been further enhanced with canards and a splitter, plus a vented front bonnet, and front fenders with top and rear vents. They certainly look the part, and of course are functional at the same time.
Moving down the MR2 you’ll find side skirts and Lexan windows, along with a hardtop. As you can see, the intercooler was cleverly hidden inside the roof.
Moving to the rear, the wideness continues with pumped rear fenders and riveted-on wheel arches. Underside aerodynamics aids were developed over time, with the front and rear diffusers now working alongside a flat floor panel. The side skirts and other parts were also modified to reduce drag and improve aerodynamic downforce.
Large end plates were recently added to the giant rear wing for yaw stability, something necessitated by the Toyota’s wheel base. On that subject, the MR2 is often criticised for its short wheel base, but in reality it just has short overhangs front and rear.
The third-gen car’s wheel base (2,451mm) is actually very similar to that of the 997 GT3 (2,457mm), even though the Porsche, visually, looks much longer.
The MR2’s hubs were changed from 4×100 PCD to 5×120 PCD for extra strength and to handle the increased g-forces the car is now subjected to. The 18-inch wheels are shod with Pirelli slicks, 285-section up front and fatter 325s in the rear, and with GT3-style air jacks on board changing them during a race is made a lot easier.
In the brake department you’ll find AP Racing Radi-Cal Pro 5000R callipers with Performance Friction brake pads, AP Racing two-piece brake rotors, and an AP Racing bias adjuster on the dashboard for fine tuning. A BMW Motorsport ABS controller is a big improvement over the MR2’s factory unit.
Suspension-wise, it’s all race-grade stuff, as you’d expect for a build of this magnitude. The rear suspension was modified from MacPherson strut to double wishbone with a custom aluminum upright copied from the Lotus Exige, and custom AST adjustable dampers with H&R springs feature at all corners.
Custom shafts able to handle whatever horsepower is thrown at them were custom-manufactured by Gear & Axle.
Although it’s not the prettiest thing, this is a racing engine built to make mad power, reliably.
The MR2’s original 1ZZ-FE was never going to cut it, so in its place sits a meaty 2GR-FE 3.5L V6, an engine commonly found in the Toyota Camry, Lexus RX350 and also the Lotus Evora. In stock form the 2GR makes around 295hp and 336Nm, but Pieter’s engine produces a monstrous 800hp and 900Nm.
Inside the engine, the camshafts were custom ground by Van Der Linde Developments, while the heads were flowed and almost all the engine internals upgraded by Anthony Taylor to handle the power requirement. In an effort to avoid any oil starvation, there’s a dry sump system with a custom-made oil pan in play.
To produce the numbers it does, the V6 is obviously no longer naturally aspirated, and boost comes care of a large BorgWarner EFR series twin-scroll turbocharger, with a custom built exhaust that exits right out the rear and Precision Turbo wastegate control.
Cooling is one of the key elements of a good race car, and this one runs water/oil heat exchangers for gearbox cooling and a Mocal oil/water heat exchanger for engine oil. The team also recently added another oil/air radiator for extra engine oil cooling.
The fuel tank was relocated from the back of the car to the front, allowing space to mount a swirl tank for improved fuel flow and all the coolers and pumps which assisted with lowering the centre of gravity, which now sits at 60:40 rear bias weight distribution giving the car excellent traction.
For events like hillclimbs the car runs at max power, but for track stuff it runs on a lower boost setting that still produces a solid 680hp and 760Nm.
All this would be pretty useless if I couldn’t be controlled and regulated properly during a race, and that’s where a whole lot of MoTeC gear come into play. The engine ECU is a MoTeC M130, and the car also runs two chassis ECUs in the form of MoTeC PDM units. It all allows the team to make almost any adjustment they want.
There’s a MoTeC gear paddle system on the steering wheel with automatic blip for downshifts and torque reduction for upshifts through the KAPS LS7 7-speed sequential transmission. Boost by gear is also activated to regulate the power when coming out of corners. Did I mention that it also has anti-lag employed?
From the driver’s seat, Pieter can control launch control, traction control, and boost control through the MoTeC console.
At around 1,050kg (2,315lbs) without the driver, the MR2 is very light. Coupled with all the power, Pieter has run a super-quick 40.8-second time on the Knysna Hillclimb’s 1.9km course, and a 1:00.9 lap at Zwartkops Raceway, a 2.4km-long circuit.
Inside it’s all business; the small cabin was completely stripped and fitted with a chromoly roll cage, which was powder-coated along with the entire chassis. Like all the windows, the front screen is Lexan
The digital dash is a MoTeC C127 unit, and the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is a Sabelt piece. In the centre console, multiple functions can be adjusted and there’s also the Racelogic HD2 data logger complete with a host of function including dual HD cameras and tyre temperature sensors.
Altogether, they record data from more than 100 sensors for in-depth analysis and warning.
Custom-built carbon fiber seats sit really low in the cabin, fitted with Schroth harnesses. They also use two Fireballs from Remco Industries with a fuse to ignite the system to stop open fires, along with the usual inboard fire suppression system.
The third-gen MR2, MR-S, or whatever you prefer calling it might not be most people’s first choice when thinking of the ultimate race car base, but Pieter and his team have proven that the ZZW30 chassis can form the basis of an amazing competition machine.
On top of its simply manic performance, this one looks damn proper too.
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