A week ago Toyota announced they will be making a R3-spec rally version of their popular GT86, slated to enter competition in 2015. That’s good news for most of the rally world but frustrating for the impatient rally fan, who won’t get to see the car compete for over a year, and frustrating for the American rally fan, who without a passport won’t get to see it at all. Fortunately just north of hipster Portland a company without a name decided to rally a GT86 before it was mainstream.
Full disclosure: Nameless Performance wanted me to come to Washington and check out their rally car so bad they let me stay in their guest bedroom, fed me (including ordering me a pizza that took three tries for the pizza place to get right), brought their expert driver from Australia to give me the ride of my life, and took me wherever I wanted to go from the moment I stepped out of the airport to the moment I had to leave.
Believing the low-slung GT86 would make a perfect rally car seems about as sane as thinking “I bet I could save time by teaching the cat to shave me with its claws in my sleep.” Aftermarket performance company Nameless Performance on the other hand didn’t just decide it would be a good rally car, but decided to essentially build the Lancia 037 of our generation, a lightweight, turbo-powered bullet designed not only to dominate the 2WD class but also hunt the overall podium. It’s not all cat-razor madness, though. The program is being used not just to create the quickest 2WD rally car in North America but also to develop better parts for the consumer market in the process. In July the team invited me out west to experience the car firsthand, and after months of schedule roulette I finally managed to fly out and try it on for size.
First a little backstory on Nameless Performance. As a company they’re fairly new to the industry, forming in 2010 as an idea in the minds of John Hoyenga and Jason Griffith, a pair of determined engineers and CAD wizards with the dream of being their own boss. They started off building performance exhaust parts in Jason’s backyard, selling just one kit per month in their first year. Now less than four full years later they’re moving 300 kits every month, building performance bits for Subaru, Jaguar, Hyundai, and the Toyobaru BR-S, and while I was visiting the shop they got a call from Cosworth with an offer to collaborate on performance kits and provide global distribution of the current Nameless product line. Yes, I’m talking about that Cosworth.
“We thought they were just going to offer us private label work,” Jason said, still dazed from the call. “When Cosworth calls and says ‘No no, we don’t just want our name on it we want yours on it too’ that’s kind of a big deal."
Nameless’ foray into rally began last year thanks to a chance encounter with Australian rally ace Will Orders at the nearby Oregon Trail Rally. Will and his co-driver Toni Feaver were racing a right hand drive, 500 wheel horsepower Silvia S13 they brought over from Oz for select Rally America events. The Slivia needed work so Jason and John invited Will to bring it to the Nameless shop. This was the spark that led to the thought, “I bet we could build an even better car ourselves.”
Fast forward a year and this is the result. The GT86’s stock engine is mated to a Borg Warner twin scroll turbo to produce 260 horsepower at the wheels. Shifting is taken care of via a Hollanger RDS6 sequential gearbox, pulled straight from an Australian V8 Supercar. Under the back of the car sits a Speedway quick change differential, which can have its ratios swapped in under two minutes. Keeping the car under control over the rough stuff is a set of MCA struts attached to custom-built chromoly subframes in the front and rear. Wilwood calipers provide the stopping power, ensuring the car doesn't become the number one cause of deforestation in the Pacific Northwest. All put together it makes for a rally car capable of over 140 miles an hour in the straights and very fast, very sideways corners. In July, despite still being a work in progress, Will and Toni took it to a second place 2WD finish in it’s Rally America debut at the New England Forest Rally, scoring the class win on seven of the thirteen stages despite having to run part of the rally with three brakes and differential fluid in the brake lines (it was either that or Gatorade). Will ended the rally by giving the competition a warning for next year, setting the third fastest overall time on the final two stages. In Maine it showed what a threat it could be, now, three months later on a closed road in the forests of Oregon, I was about to learn firsthand exactly what it already was.
Sitting in the right seat of rally cars is pretty much my thing, it’s a place I’m familiar and comfortable with, but as I strap myself into the 86 I’m nervous for the first time in years. Beside me is a man who has won the Australian Production Rally Championship and surrounding me is a car light years faster than anything I’ve ever experienced before. To top it off I have no notes to distract me from the trees and rocks that will be trying to convince the car to stop by for a visit, singing their seductive songs like the sirens of ancient Greece. I genuinely have no idea what to expect from this car. Strapped in and ready to start I count Will down, just like I’ve done in competition a hundred times. Three… two… one…
While the initial acceleration isn’t savage it’s firm and purposeful. The engine gives a brief yip as the rear tires paddlewheel momentarily before digging in. Riding a surge of power we take off from the junction where we sat moments ago. Every upshift is met with an explosive bang out the exhaust. It only takes three corners for me to understand that Will, a man whose racing career started with autocross competitions in a ’76 Escort when he was just nine years old, has a better understanding of driving sideways on dirt than most people have of driving straight on the highway. He navigates the front of the car with surgical precision, the corners of the front bumper tracking the edge of the road as if laser guided, and uses the throttle to swing the back around, aiming the rear at the exit of the corner before we’ve even reached the apex. A glance over at Will and he looks as relaxed as if we’re just headed over to McBruce's for McPrawn happy meal (it comes with vegemite-coated chips and a Foster's). A glance over at the speedometer says we’re sideways at 80 miles an hour.
We come into a left-right combination, what would probably be a L4+ into R3 in my nonexistent notes, and I realize we’re not going to make the second corner. We’re exiting the left and the back end is just sliding as if the corner continues. Time slows as I think about when John Buffum, the man with the world record for most rally wins, visited these woods a year ago in a Quattro and promptly stuffed it into a bank just like the one we’re aimed toward. I mentally shrug, a little disappointed my first rally crash will come during testing and not an actual event. Then, as I’ve accepted my greatest ride ever will be ending early, the laser guidance takes over as Will tap dances the pedals. The back end stops rotating and snaps around in the other direction. He not only makes the second corner but hits the apex, the front inside wheel slightly crossing the threshold between road and ditch. At this moment I accept two things: Will isn’t human, and I don’t need to do anything but enjoy the ride.
For the rest of the ride I sit in my seat with a perpetual grin on my face. The speed and precision of Will and this car through the twists of this forest road are unfathomable. Sweeping corners are taken with me staring straight ahead not at the road but at the vegetation growing inside the turn. On the “straight” sections I look over and see speed pass 100 and flirt with 110. I wonder to myself if I can claim this seat as mine by licking it, because I don’t ever want to get out. Call up Comcast, ask how much it would cost to wire the car for internet and cable TV, I’m living here now.
Sadly after a few passes up and down the road Will skids it onto the team’s service tarp. Begrudgingly, and after a few jokes about never getting out that I silently wish weren’t just jokes, I slowly hoist myself out of the seat, the crew needs to check the car and Will has other people to give rides to. I watch Will pull back off the tarp and wonder if on my return flight home I can stuff the 86 in my check bag and claim Will as my personal item. My calculations are interrupted as the car comes limping in. The pinion gear in the rear differential is shredded.
“No one’s ever run one of these Speedway quick change rear ends in rally,” John Hoyenga explains to me, “they’re meant for circle track racing, the stresses we put on it are completely different.”
Will, still with a few rides to give, takes the failure in stride and switches over to a Corolla AE86 rally car, owned by engine tuner John Reed, that also made the journey out to the woods. As Jason and John examine the black GT nose to tail the white AE rips back and forth down the road behind them. The AE pulls in and deposits a grinning crew member.
“He just ruined driving for me. Nothing I ever do or experience in a car will be that incredible.”
Finally the sun begins to set as Will gives his last ride, the gravel rally tires reduced to slicks. I’m still in awe of the car and ask John and Jason about the team’s plans for 2014, as far as I’m concerned this thing needs to see stages ASAP.
“Our goal is to run the entire Rally America season and consistently put the car on the overall podium,” Jason states simply. It sounds like a tall order, only once in Rally America history has a 2WD car infiltrated the overall podium, and the series receives more and more top level international talent across the classes every year, but he and John are confident. “The car’s fully capable of it, we’ll be extremely competitive at events like 100 Acre, Oregon, Ojibwe, and Maine. We just need to get the sponsors lined up so we can run the full season. Our big issues are funding for lodging, transportation, and tires. We go through tires like candy.”
“Plan B,” John adds, “is to run NASA Rally Sport in 2014. I’m absolutely positive we could win [the all tarmac] Empire State Performance Rally overall.”
As for the car itself, John and Jason reveal it’s going to be an even more formidable machine next year. Will, who in addition to being a driving god designs custom suspensions for Australian aftermarket giant Pedder’s, says suspension improvements alone will take five seconds per mile off the car’s time. John refuses to disclose some of the details, referring to them as “black ops,” but reveals a redesigned subframe and conversion to rear trailing link suspension are in the works. Power will be increased but the size of the jump depends entirely on budget and sponsors. If they can find the sponsor support they’ve got a new turbo engine design already planned out that will give them up to 400 wheel horsepower, if not they’ll drop the turbo and go for naturally aspirated power which, according to Jason, will still give them up to 300 WHP. “Without the turbo we’re already at 190 at the wheels without any intake work,” he comments. (Import Tuner tested a stock FR-S and found it put out 160 at the wheels.)
Despite the NA option resulting in 25% less power than their turbo package John says it has greater potential from a business perspective: “I know if we make a NA kit that puts out 250-300 horsepower the customer community will be interested. Some people aren’t comfortable boosting their engines and prefer going the NA route.”
When asked if much of the technology going into the GT86 rally car will be for sale at some point John confirmed most of the parts and technology will be available, starting with the latest iteration of their header design, an upcoming knuckle replacement kit, and front and rear subframes. “There will be an analog of what is on the rally car that will be available to the public. Whatever parts we design and run on the rally car there will be a similar part available, all of which use the same engineering.”
In today’s rally world two wheel drive is considered irrelevant and rear wheel drive is virtually nonexistent, with cars like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf being the new standard, but before that RWD was the only way to compete. From the Renault Alpine to the Ford Escort to the Lancia Stratos and 037, the last 2WD car to win a World Rally Championship. This car is a return to that tradition, to big horsepower, big drifts, and big cheers, but at the same time it’s a completely new page and new era. The entire Nameless crew says it’s a car that can quite literally punch above its class and compete with the all wheel drive establishment. After a day in the woods with Will and the Nameless Toyota GT86 I have no doubts they’re right.
NOTE: Nameless Performance owners Jason Griffith and John Hoyenga did a live Q&A session on Friday, which you can read here. We will try to get Will Orders and Toni Feaver in for a session in the near future as well.
For extra photos of the GT86 and the Nameless shop check the Flickr gallery here.
Photo credits: Randy Montgomery, Steven Harrell, Pete Kuncis/On A Limb Racing
Video credit: Nameless Performance