When I bought my 2007 Yaris, it was intended for my son. And he really liked driving the car. The high seating position and large windows made for great visibility. It got 35/45 mpg and it was easy to park. I liked it because of the robust, no-frills design, and that it was possible to build it to SCCA B-Spec rules with minimal cost, should that bridge ever need crossing. When he left for college, I started tracking it. I removed the rear seats and built a tray to turn the back into a station wagon. I had a Miata at the time, and the wheels had the same 4×100 bolt pattern and 54.1 centerbore. I tracked it at Thunderhill, Sonoma, and Laguna Seca. Despite its low power (106 crank hp), drum brakes, and non-supportive seats, it was a hoot to drive. I even took it off road to the Primitive rallycross school.
Here’s a video of the first time I had it on track. 2:22 on 195 width RS3s isn’t too shabby at Thunderhill.
Here’s a video at Laguna Seca on a day where rain runoff created puddles at various places on track. 2:02 isn’t bad under the circumstances, and I passed a lot of faster cars who were afraid of getting their feet wet.
I got it in my head that I wanted to build the car to SCCA B-Spec rules to compete at the SCCA Runoffs at Sonoma. While I don’t consider Sonoma to be my home track, it is the closest one at about an hour away. B-Spec meant it needed a full cage, fire suppression, race seat, cutoff switch, suspension, etc. So I stripped the car to its bones, got the cage built at one of John Pagel’s cage-building classes, and put all the pieces together. I tracked it a few times, and looking over the Norcal B-Spec records, I expected us to do okay. But then I had a series of injuries that kept me off track for a while. This included knee surgery and a herniated disc. The knee is doing fine, but the back continues to give me problems. Anyway, I didn’t end up going to the Runoffs at Sonoma or anywhere else. The only SCCA race I did wasn’t much fun.
Here’s a video of the car on a test day at Thunderhill West, which I consider my home track. Fastest lap was a 1:33, which is pretty respectable.
The first endurance race for the Yaris was a Lucky Dog race at Laguna Seca. I got stung by something, which freaked me out a little. I’m deathly allergic to yellowjackets, so I hung out in the ambulance for a while making sure I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock. Eventually, I did get on track, but just the last 20 minutes or so. Here’s video of that.
The next race was my first and only 24 hour race: a Lucky Dog race at Buttonwillow. I put extra lights on the car, but it wasn’t enough. The first set of brake pads burned through in 8 hours, leaving us 16 hours to go with the other set. Team orders: coast into braking zones. I hadn’t plan on doing well, so I mounted 340 treadwear tires on the car and didn’t bother removing the unleaded restrictor. With any one of the following: longer lasting brakes, stickier tires, or a larger fuel neck, we would have won the race. We “settled” for 3rd place overall. It may be the best race weekend I’ve had. Here are a couple of my laps from that race near dusk.
The next race was a ChumpCar race at Thunderhill West where most of the team were complete rookies. It was more like a track day than a race. The Yaris is an ideal car for some first-time racers, and it saw them all safely home. The camaraderie of the team made it a special weekend. I don’t have video from that, sadly.
Next up was a Lemons race at Thunderhill. I had finally decided to abandon B-Spec rules and upgrade the car! Which turned out to be brake calipers from a Corolla. I didn’t decide to abandon street legal. The most memorable part of the weekend was a freak rainstorm that turned the race into a slippy slide playground. That was the most fun I have ever had in a car. I’ve linked my rain video several times, so feel free to skip this one if you’re bored.
The Yaris’ last and maybe final West Coast event was a Lucky Dog at Thunderhill race where Randy Pobst took the last stint. Sorry, the front-facing camera wasn’t working for some reason on Sunday, so here’s some footage of me on Saturday.
The Yaris has done around 30 track days, split pretty equally among testing, racing, and coaching. It turns laps faster than it should and doesn’t consume oil or water. Gasoline usage is a mere 4 gallons per hour. 17 other drivers have raced it in anger including some pretty talented racers like Randy Pobst, Matt Shinnors, and Pablo Marx. The Yaris has proved itself over and over as an unexpectedly great racecar. It makes indelible memories, and I will miss it.
Wait. Miss it? Yep, the Yaris is moving to a new home in Ithaca, New York. I’m sure my brother will take great care of it, and if his Miata is any indication, it will be much improved under his stewardship. Does that mean I’m done racing? Nah. I visit him a couple times per year, and there a bunch of bucket list tracks I’m looking forward to attacking with the Yaris. There are also plenty of teams out here I can arrive-n-drive with.
So what’s behind this sudden decision? It’s actually not that sudden. I’ve been talking about this for about a year. Some of the decision is my back health. Every time I work on a car it hurts my back. I’ve also lost some motivation. I don’t have much to prove to myself anymore, and I’ve answered most of my big questions. Still, driving is one of my beloved hobbies, and as long as I’m having driving ideas and adventures I’ll be posting them on YSAR.