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Experiencing the Toyota Gazoo Racing Academy firsthand

Because more track time and formal lessons are always a good thing

It's racing season as the Vios Cup approaches once again. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

You may know that I got my ass handed to my overenthusiastic self during the autocross challenge of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Vios Cup last year. I would find myself trailing at the back of the pack, at least two to three seconds behind the last person to advance to the semifinals.

When the third leg came around, I had mustered enough resolve to go all out. I would be throwing caution to the wind, taking corners at faster speeds, and throwing the Vios OMR around until the tires screamed for grip. It worked at the expense of committing a few mistakes, but I was able to squeeze myself into the semifinals.

The author would not like this to happen again in the near future. SCREENSHOT FROM TOYOTA GAZOO RACING PHILIPPINES

That was great and all, until I got a little too feisty during my run and ended up on the grass as I felt the car understeer and miss the chicane completely. The car made it out unscathed, thankfully, but then I guess you could say that my ego took most of the beating.

Fast-forward a few months later, and we’re nearing the next round of the Vios Cup. I would be our publication’s representative (again), but with a personal mission of making it into the finals without any drama.

While the lecture may seem like the most boring part, it's arguably the most important bit of these classes. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

This was why I was more than willing to spend my Sunday at the Toyota Gazoo Racing Academy Philippines, alongside a couple of other colleagues and first-timers participating in this year’s autocross challenge.

Formerly known as the Toyota Racing School, these classes are held in partnership with Tuason Racing School to help teach aspiring drivers (and noobs like myself) the ways of motorsports. And if you want to compete in the Vios Cup, this is the perfect avenue to go through.

We went through the Level 1 category, which involves racing and circuit etiquette, the difference between oversteer and understeer, threshold braking, a slalom course, and a few flying laps of Clark International Speedway to learn about the racing line.

The braking tests were nothing like those in ‘Gran Turismo.’ PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

We were assigned either manual or CVT-equipped Vios OMRs. A colleague and I picked the manual batch, but ended up in the sole CVT car.

Were we disappointed? Slightly, but that wasn’t the sole focus of these lessons.

First up was braking. We took the cars to at least 80km/h, and then hit the brakes the moment the front bumper passed the first cone within the stop box. The goal was not to hit the final cone while getting as close as possible to it.

While it may seem trivial to slam on the brake pedal and hope that the ABS engages, that’s not the best way to do it when racing. You’ll want to find that point where the brakes bite hard enough to effectively slow (or stop) you without locking the tires up.

It's extremely easy to upset the car in a slalom, so you need to be smooth with your throttle and brake input. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

The second was a slalom course. It’s straightforward: Go as fast as possible around the course and apply what we learned in the first drill by stopping in a stop box. The closest thing to autocross, essentially.

Here, I discovered how crucial it is to not upset the car’s balance as you throw it around corners. I had a smooth flow around the cones by my second run, only to encounter understeer once again because I applied the throttle a little too early coming out of that previous turn.

Understanding the braking zones, apexes, and racing lines around a circuit is key to setting a blisteringly quick lap time. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Finally, the most exhilarating part of the class: flying laps of the circuit. Here, we learned about the racing line, braking points, apexes, and tips and tricks for specific parts of the circuit.

We had to do it in a “follow the leader” style, where a Vios GR-S would act as a pace car to guide us “track virgins” around. Needless to say, most of my colleagues (including myself) wanted to do more laps, but we were running out of time.

At the end of the day, all the skills I learned were enough to give me a huge confidence boost for when I would be tackling the autocross challenge once again.

Any automotive enthusiast must go through racing classes at least once in life. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Granted, these lessons aren’t some kind of magic bullet to make me better on the track overnight, as there’s a reason you see professional racers repeatedly lap the same track over and over again for weeks on end.

As I said before: If you’re ever given the opportunity to take this, take it. Even if you don’t aspire to become a race car driver, these lessons will help you become a better driver outside the circuit.

Plus, it’s plenty of fun (and quite cathartic) to safely bring a car up to speeds of 150km/h, toss it around corners like you’re on a roller coaster, and stir a little competition between you and your buddies.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.