NASCAR to use redesigned Camry

There’s a new Camry appearing at a NASCAR track near you in 2013.

In conjunction with Calty Design Research, Toyota Racing Development and Toyota Motor Sales have developed a race car for the Sprint Cup Series that most closely resembles the new production Camry — released in showrooms last August — and a vehicle closest in look to a showroom model since the manufacturer entered Cup in 2007.

Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR champ who built race cars when the models were still stock, believes the new cars will promote the "race on Sunday, buy on Monday" philosophy because fans want to drive what they see beings raced.

“Before I even started racing, I worked on stock cars but they have evolved into being less manufactured cars,” said Labonte, who races Toyotas for JTG/Daugherty Racing. “But there will be less identity through decals and more characteristics that distinguish one car from another with styling.

“Back in the day — 15, 18 years ago — the Monte Carlo, the Ford, the Dodges were closer to that styling because you could only do so much. Then everyone got smarter and the cars were safer, but they took away the identity of the cars. I’m excited. Each car will be unique in their identity, and that’s how it should be.”

Lee White, president and general manager of TRD, says in the 40 years he’s worked in racing he’s never witnessed this “spirit of cooperation” among competing manufacturers in a race series.

Certainly, the redesign of the Nationwide Series cars to include sport Pony Car models to the tour set the wheels in motion for Cup to adopt a similar tact. NASCAR went through a lengthy aerodynamic process with the vehicles to prove to the manufacturers that “the cars could look pretty different but still perform in the parity envelope that everyone demands,” according to Mike Fisher, managing director of NASCAR’s Research and Development Center.

“I think they took some of that knowledge and energy and carried it on into this project,” Fisher said. “We realized that we could open up even a greater area of the car for manufacturer identity and still maintain the parody that we need to.”

Although talk of a new Cup car started in the fall of 2009, for the past 18 months manufacturers have been working diligently to take the designs and develop race cars.

“This was certainly a challenge because there are a lot of design parameters — we call them hard points — that are set by NASCAR,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design, a Toyota global network design partner. “Then there are a lot of aerodynamic and cooling issues, as well. Mainly, we just tried to take what we thought was the spirit of the production Camry and pump it up so it felt like an aggressive race car.

“We work with Toyota Racing Development engineers to make sure that everything is functional, has good performance and looks like a Camry production car. I think there are some areas that are really good, really highly characteristic of Camry, particularly in the front design. Still, it’s a work in progress. We’re still tuning up things, but we’re pretty happy with the results.”

The "hard points" — or common areas — set by NASCAR include the cockpit, rocker panels below the driver and passenger windows, splitter, spoiler, wheel openings and fender flairs. The identity of the cars will be apparent in the front grille areas, character lines on the sides of the vehicles and updated rear bumpers.

“It’s been a very long process,” said Andy Graves, vice president of chassis engineering for TRD. “But we haven’t shown this car to anyone who wasn’t excited about it from the teams, to the drivers, our dealers, all of our executives at Toyota and even NASCAR. On a monthly basis when I brought up dates to Robin (Pemberton, vice president of competition) and Mike (Helton, president) and they saw how this project was growing, it was really amazing how much identity we could put into these cars but still keep the parody through the hard points.”

Graves is optimistic that Toyota will submit its final car to NASCAR by early July with “legal” parts ready to be delivered to teams by September so they can begin building fleets for 2013.

Fisher said the plan is to submit the 2013 car for approval by midsummer, with a thumbs-up expected shortly thereafter, so teams have time to test.

“We, along with the competition department, are the final referees of the final products,” Fisher said. “We’ve issued targets from aerodynamic standpoints to all the manufacturers that they’re working to meet, and we officiate that product by going to the wind tunnel. We use a reference vehicle that we’ve constructed that all the manufacturers’ components will be assembled to. Then we’ll go through each manufacturer with the same vehicle in the same tunnel on the same day or a couple of days and then we’ll make those evaluations.

“Based on that, we’ll review the information with our competition group and make a decision on approval or not.”