1,000 miles, 21 hours, two drivers. It’s a race against the time and distance to get the Toyota GT86 back to Britain from its launch in Barcelona, Spain. It’s the longest test drive to date – if you don’t count the thousands of miles covered in pre-launch testing. Nik Pearson picks up the story in our diary below…
Friday 25th May, 0545
“It’s early. Very early. The sun is just beginning to rise as I head for Heathrow and a one way flight to Barcelona. Today is going to be busy. 5th Gear TV are down to drive the GT86, with BTTC driver Jason Plato behind the wheel. Once he has finished, I have to drive the car from its present home in Barcelona all the way back to the UK. I can’t wait to get started.”
Friday 25th May, 1130
“I land in Barcelona, meet Plato and the film crew from 5th Gear – and catch a glimpse of the bright orange GT86 that in 36 hours time will be carrying me home. This isn’t my first time in the car (I have been involved in the launch for the last two years), but I still can’t wait to settle into the driver’s seat, fire up the engine and head out for a proper drive. But first, I have to watch someone else do it.
I hand the keys to Plato, fire up my hired Toyota Yaris, and give chase as we head from the airport to a local racetrack… I hope he doesn’t destroy the tyres…”
Friday 25th May, 1230
“Plato, the film crew and I arrive at a racetrack near Barcelona and work starts. The asphalt is tyre-meltingly hot, as the thermometer hits 30 degrees. Plato swings ‘my’ car around the pitlane, shifts down through the gearbox, floors it and heads for the first corner. As he heads from view, all I can hear is the unmistakeable roar of the car’s boxer engine, and the screech of tyres on the limit… Meanwhile I’m stuck in pit garage the counting down to the start of the drive.”
Friday 25th May, 1300
“Out on the track, Plato has spent the morning looking out of the GT86’s side windows as he drifts the GT86 through a series of sweeping curves. I distract myself from the action, for fear of what he might be doing to the car. In the pitlane, there’s a display of Toyota’s most desirable classic road cars. There’s a red 2000GT, made famous by James Bond (You Only Live Twice, fans…) and an S800, the first sportscar Toyota ever built. You can certainly see where GT86 gets its looks from, but if the 2000GT is GT86’s inspiration, then the S800 is the Daddy, it features the same boxer-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout.”
Friday 25th May, 1630
“After 3 hours on track, it’s time for the GT86 to change its boots, ready for some filming on the open road. A couple of mechanics give the car a once over, and declare it “perfect”. It’s a relief. Wheels and tyres swapped, we bid the track farewell, and I climb back into my Yaris and give chase to the orange flash in front of me. We head up into Montserrat, a range of jagged rock formations above Barcelona. I manage to hold on for a bit, then Plato disappears into the distance. While the Yaris is the perfect car for the city, it struggles to keep up with the GT86. I leave the TV crew to finish their work, and head back to the overnight stop.”
Friday 25th May, 1900
“It’s still roasting hot, as the sun continues to beat down. The place we’re staying sits on Mount Tibidabo, and the roads around us are spectacular.”
Friday 25th May, 2000
“It’s time to tuck the GT86 up in bed for the night. After Plato has had his way with it, it certainly deserves a rest…”
Saturday 26th May, 0800
“I’m up early to bid farewell to the car once again. Plato and the 5th Gear guys are taking it on a long hike west of Barcelona for a day’s filming. He has to be back before six though, as he has a private jet waiting for him to go to the Monaco GP (how the other half live).”
Saturday 26th May, 1100
“This anticipation is killing me! I want my GT86 NOW! The burble of the boxer engine, to be slung low in the cockpit as we head for the horizon. As nice as Barcelona is, the car is what I came here for and the sunshine is getting boring! It’s got me to thinking about tonight’s route. I think a pass through Le Mans has got to be on the cards.”
Saturday 26th May, 1700
“So to the airport, where I pick up Simon Clay, who’s going to be playing photographer and co-driver for the run home. Not long now…”
Saturday 26th May, 1800
“And we are off. Finally, it’s back to Blighty – 1,100 miles, three countries and a set of mountains are all that stand between me and Toyota’s press garage, where this car will live for the next couple of months. We waste no time in getting on with it, heading back over Mount Tibidabo. The engine sounds fantastic, and the winding roads are a fantastic test.”
Saturday 26th May, 2000
“Our car attracts attention like a magnet at service stations, locals scurrying to get shots of the car. We are stopped to chat twice at service stations by broadly smiling men, eager to have a go.”
Saturday 26th May, 2200
“And we are into France. It’s been four hours and three nameless French cities since we last stopped for fuel. In other sports cars my back would be numb-but I’m ok, and feel like I can carry on another four.
The high-backed seats prove comfortable over long distances – and put you in the perfect position to snatch at the short throw gear lever and get back to the beautiful feel of the steering. A welcome addition is the leather padding around the centre console, it’s somewhere nice to rest your leg as you blast up the motorway…
The stereo is lovely – and as our journey is being broadcast through @toyotaGB through Twitter there’s no shortage of suggestions of what we should be listening to.”
Saturday 26th May, 2200
“The burble of the engine sounds fantastic, particularly as you rev the 2.0-litre unit round to its redline. But as our journey heads down to the motorway, our pace levels out. At motorway speeds, the drama of the engine note drops back and it becomes a refined cruiser to eat up some asphalt with.”
Saturday 26th May, 2300
“It’s 11pm, and time to stop for some atmospheric night shots. It’s not just the GT86’s looks that are photographer friendly. All Simon’s gear, my overnight stuff is packed in – and there’s still room to spare in the boot.”
Sunday 27th May, 0100
“So it’s 1am. The car looks mean with its running lights – a real beast. We stop to take a few shots. The car looks great in the early morning mist with its LEDs cutting through. For safety’s sake, we swap driving duties. I’m tired, but not exhausted. At least there’s space to stretch out for some shut-eye!”
Sunday 27th May, 0500
“We stop for fuel… Consumption is sitting at around 34mpg, while our average speed is around 70mph, a pace underlined by the fact that the nose of our GT86 is covered in squashed insects!
Then it’s me back behind the wheel and out onto the road. We pass yet another toll booth. I file out, and push the throttle to the floor, revving the engine through the gears. Simon and I both have big smiles – the noise of acceleration is just too much to resist.”
Sunday 27th May, 0700
“We pass the sign for Le Mans, and head up to the legendary track. Our new TS030 Hybrid prototype endurance racer will be here in just a few days time. The track for the long distance, 24 hour endurance race is already being built. Aiming to get a good view of the start and finish straight, we join a Porsche convoy arriving for a Sunday morning blast around the track. We make it all the way to the pit lane. The gate is open to the track. Do we go for it? I blip the throttle and head towards the hoping not to be seen. Just as I thought we had got away with it, a rather officious French man runs after me and ushers me off the track… So close!”
Sunday 27 May, 1100
“Calais… We’ve almost done it! The joy of the car is in it’s simplicity. It doesn’t have anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for driving enjoyment. And that’s why I have loved the last two days.
Saying that, it doesn’t sacrifice comfort. Despite the noise pedal and the fun in French toll booths, the car feels easily able to eat vast tracts of Europe in single sittings.
Yes we’ve waited a long time for it coming, but it is a good thing to wait when it this much fun. And the attention it attracts… on our way through France, we were stopped several times and admiring glances were de riguer. We’ve done a fantastic job for our French Toyota colleagues.”
Sunday 27 May, 1500
“Finally, we are back in Britain… But the GT86 has got one last surprise. And it’s the last few miles that are the most rewarding.
We drop off the M25 on our way to Toyota’s press car facility at Salfords, through Godstone and on to a deserted coutry road. After hours of motorway driving, it feels good to be back on a winding road, and it’s a brilliant opportunity to put the car to the test in familiar surrounding.
We park up. Our journey at an end. The GT86 needs a good clean, but it’s powered us without fault across Europe. And it won’t be long before it heads back out across the English Channel. The car’s first job is a What Car? Reader Clinic – set to be held on the weekend of May 30th in France.”
To read the latest independent, expert opinion on the GT86, read our reviews round-up.
For more information about the new Toyota GT86 click here.