The Toyota GT86 Cup is a brilliant race car kit which makes the best street car I’ve driven in years even more enjoyable on track. One team tweaked their GT86 Cup even further for Nürburgring domination, and it held its own against much more powerful cars at the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Bonus: they didn’t even add a turbo.
We’re all looking forward to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend, but that’s more of a serious career achievement for top-level racing drivers. The Nürburgring 24 Hours, on the other hand, is where some of those Le Mans drivers end up running for fun. It’s much more accessible to drivers who might never end up in a Le Mans car, too, and more open to all kinds of crazy production-based builds as opposed to four tightly regulated classes of cars.
I’ve now been lucky enough to see both in person, and I have to admit, I fell in love with the more laid-back day-long race at the ‘Ring. Where else do you see an older Opel Manta racing a brand-new Porsche 911 GT3 R? Or folks you may have had as instructors on track somewhere go compete alongside factory drivers? It’s delightful and absurd, and best viewed among the crazies camping out in the woods, with the mind-blowing variety of exhaust notes echoing off the trees. Being among over 200,000 car nuts in for a race weekend is the kind of experience that can restore your faith in the idea that yes, cars are good.
The idea of building a “Cup” spec of the Toyota GT86 started back in 2012. Up until this year, it ran as its own class in the VLN series. (VLN is what runs races at the Nürburgring, including the Nürburgring 24.) So, when the GT86 Cup was no longer its own spec class in the VLN series this year, the Manheller Racing/Milltek Sport team entered their ex-GT86 Cup car in the Nürburgring 24 Hours anyway.
The car then became part of the SP3 class that includes modified cars with two liters of displacement or less. This allowed the team to not only add in some bigger-budget race mods, but to actually address some common problems with tracking a Toyota 86 that you, a regular Toyobaru owner, might even experience.
Best of all, it worked! The team came in second in the SP3 class, even beating out Toyota Motorsport’s own GT86 effort.
We’ve already written about what goes into the GT86 Cup kit because that’s exactly what we raced in the World Racing League race in Houston. It’s a brilliant package of mods that gets rid of that flat spot in the torque curve that frustrates many Toyobaru owners with a revised intake and tune, among other nice-to-have and race-ready things. You can check out Robb Holland’s full write-up on that build here.
Milltek had a GT86 with the latest version of the GT86 CS-Cup mods from 2016 already on it. They mean the car was lighter, more powerful, and had revised aerodynamics compared to the original 2012 GT86 Cup. It included the addition of flat-foot gear shifting that auto-rev-matched the throttle, the four-piston Alcon front brake calipers from the GT86 rally car, and an adjusted sixth gear.
Milltek had a slight advantage, as their team manager Oliver Kröll worked at Toyota Motorsport for three years before he jumped over to work with the Milltek team. Milltek’s GT86 was one of the last two cars Kröll sold while working with Toyota’s customer racing program, and was also one of the well-prepped standouts in the spec class. The car Milltek took to the Nürburgring this year won the CUP4 class title in the VLN series last year. It took the podium at last year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours in that class, too.
However, this year’s move to the SP3 class meant that they’d need to tweak the car further in order for it to be competitive there. The car was good, but it had some notable weaknesses. Toyota struggled to fix ABS issues and drive shaft failures over the GT86 Cup’s run as a VLN class, for example, neither of which are things you want to experience on the Nürburgring’s Nordschelife course, a track infamous around the world for its walls, close and unforgiving.
The first clue that things aren’t business as usual in this GT86 Cup is the addition of the two delightfully homebrew-looking holes in the hood for improved cooling. You can keep your fancy carbon fiber hood that you overnighted from Japan—the Milltek crew went with the quick and dirty means of adding lightness and cooling on theirs, and it works.
The drive shaft issue was partially due to the car’s suspension geometry when it’s lowered to Cup spec. To spare some stress on the axle joints and alleviate the drive shaft issue, the Milltek team swapped in solid metal subframe bushings that raised the differential by 20 millimeters.
They also knew that the regular GT86 Cup gearbox wouldn’t last as long as they wanted for a full-24 hour race, either, as Kröll mentioned that the GT86's manual gearbox usually needs servicing after two four-hour races. So, in went a six-speed sequential racing transmission from Drenth, which gave them the added bonus of faster shifts.
As much as I love the satisfaction of getting a manual shift right on track, even I have to admit that a sequential racing transmission is the way to go for actual competition use. Is it more like a video game? Sure. Is that a bad thing? Not really.
The team refreshed parts throughout the car to make sure it was all still in working order, and also made a few choice tweaks to make it better for racing. That included getting the car a 100-liter (26.4-gallon) FT3 fuel cell installed where the usual gas tank would fit—about double the stock 13.2-gallon size. This had been added in the 2017 season, but it allowed the team to run some of the longest stints in their new class before needing to stop for fuel. Drivers could go over two and a half hours on a tank.
Because it was Milltek’s car in the race, a Milltek exhaust system with 4-2-1 exhaust headers was also on the car. Milltek provides the exhaust systems for the 86 Cup kits, but the team was more than happy to note their own part on the car.
All in all, Kröll said that the car wasn’t even especially hard to modify, and ran largely trouble-free for the race itself.
The car first raced at the four-hour-long second VLN race of the year, before the Nürburgring 24 Hours in May. It was at the full-24-hour race where its long stints really got the chance to shine, though. It was one of the slowest cars in the SP3 class, but still eked out a second place finish at the Nürburgring 24 Hours because it could keep logging laps while the other cars had to stop for fuel.
There was one moment caught on video (above) that proved just how close anyone at the Nürburgring 24 Hours is at any given moment to not finishing at all, though. Milltek driver Manuel Amweg was the first car into the big crash that took out the then-leading No. 911 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 RSR.
There were no flags warning him that a Porsche just ate the wall and oiled down the track ahead, but Amweg managed to dive between the 911 and the wall just in time to keep going.
“Next year we will all order brown racing suits for [the Nürburgring 24 Hours],” wrote driver and occasional Jalopnik contributor Dale Lomas on Facebook. Later heavy downpours and race-pausing fog during the race convinced him even more of the need for brown suits next year. A leak in the windscreen caused it to fog up even more inside than usual when conditions got wet.
The ethos behind this car is what made it successful: Don’t go too custom, and focus on reliability rather than outright speed. Just about everything done to the car, even that trick sequential transmission, was done to stretch out service intervals and get components that would last.
As these Toyobaru Twins cars keep popping up more and more on racetracks the world over, it’s good to look at this car as a formula for going fast.
We’re featuring the coolest project cars from across the internet on Build of the Week. What insane build have you been wrenching on lately? Drop me a line at stef dot schrader at jalopnik dot com with “Build of the Week” somewhere in the subject line if you’d like to be featured here.