Regular consumers of Tony Matthews’ column here at Mac’s Motor City Garage know he’s not simply an automotive artist (“illustrator,” he would say). He’s a hands-on, full-immersion car guy who’s served his time in race shops and pit crews. His TOM’S Toyota Supra rendering here is accompanied by the story of his adventure as a TOM’S crew member at the Spa 24 Hours. Here’s Tony.
Tom’s Toyota Supra
by Tony Matthews
Here’s another production-based racer, this time a Toyota Supra. Prepared and entered by the Japanese tuning company TOM’S, these were quite impressive cars—sleek and purposeful, but a bit heavy, I seem to recall. My involvement was due to being a weekend warrior for the British arm of Tom’s, not surprisingly called TOM’S GB.
TOM’S GB was campaigning a Toyota Corolla FX in the British Touring Car Championship, with occasional forays in the European TCC. These championships were run in classes, with cars such as the Ford Sierra Cosworths at the top, BMW M3s and Ford Escorts in the next two classes, then the tiddlers.
Quote from Wikipedia: “The championship was initially run with a mix of classes, divided according to engine capacity, racing simultaneously. This often meant that a driver who chose the right class could win the overall championship without any chance of overall race wins, thereby devaluing the title for the spectators.”
Personally, I don’t agree with this. Confusion was, in my opinion, caused by lack of information given to the often large crowds. As competitors, we found it great to know that class wins could lead to Championship wins with a car that was not an outright race winner—although his might have been frustrating for the top teams running larger, more powerful and much more expensive vehicles.
However, all this changed a few years later when a 2-litre formula was introduced, which survives to this day. The Corolla FX was entered for all the British rounds, and entered for the 24-hour round of the ETCC at Spa in Belgium, apart from one season when that event clashed with an important British round. I was called in to help at Spa on two occasions, once with the Corolla and then with the Supras.
Crewing for the Supra was actually a bit of a surprise, as TOM’S GB was initially only involved in supplying kit that was not practical to fly over from Japan along with two Supras, a Levin, sixty-odd wheels, and the thirty-or-so Japanese personnel. We provided a 40-foot trailer full of nitrogen bottles, refueling rigs, compressor, generator, larger tools, wheel guns and hoses, plus a trike and a quad with trailers for collecting fuel as we needed it from the central supply some way from the pits.
I bought the quad for myself, and lent it to the team out of the goodness of my heart, along with a baby trike that was used by the drivers to get to and from the pits to the caravans we had hired for them to rest/sleep in between stints. One of the Japanese drivers spent hours riding around on this on two wheels, resulting in the large parts of the rear, plastic mudguards being worn away. Thanks.
The trailer was driven out from Britain via a ferry over the British Channel. The surprise came two days before the race when the team manager decided to run a time trial between us and the Japanese crew in a practice pit-stop. This was a novelty for us as tire changes were a rarity in the BTCC rounds, but as we were all considerably larger than our opposite numbers, we were substantially faster and told that we were the pit crew.
Anyone who has been involved in 24-hour races will know that it is a strenuous pursuit, with night practice, day practice and constant work on the cars and perfecting the pit operation for a week before the race. One major concern for the TOM’S team was that a significant detail had not been passed on from us to those in Japan who needed to know – it had lodged just below in the hierarchy.
This information was that, unlike previous years, the fuel had to be unleaded. This meant that the engines had to be detuned in order to survive, but reduced their competitiveness. I was present when this awful news finally reached the top, and I really thought the miscreant was going to commit hari-kari.
All this actually came to nothing, as during the night of the race a local Toyota driver was killed at Eau Rouge, and the distraught team begged all other Toyota teams to withdraw from the race. TOM’S were very reluctant to do so, but after several lengthy phone calls to Japan, they agreed, and at three in the morning we were packing up.
The cutaway image below is high resolution. Left-click to open and left-click again to expand to full size.
Text and images copyright Tony Matthews, all rights reserved. Used by permission. Be sure to see Tony’s other great cutaways at Mac’s Motor City Garage. Links open in new windows:
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Honda Accord BTTC racer
Ilmor Chevrolet 265A IndyCar engine
Williams FW14 F1 car
Ilmor Buick Indy proposal
Auburn 851 Speedster
1994 Penske PC23 Indy car
Chevy Ilmor 265B IndyCar engine – pencil
Penske 8760 Series Damper
Lotus 95T Renault F1 car
Penske PC9 Indy Car