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Long Beach Grand Prix: Hitching a ride in a modified Camry

April 20, 2013|By David Undercoffler

Your neighbor's Toyota Camry this isn't.

Spend some time at the Long Beach Grand Prix this weekend and you'll see a fleet of Camrys lapping the 1.97-mile course periodically. Toyota has been the title sponsor of the LBGP for years, and one of the perks of this sponsorship is that the pace cars used for many of the events are Toyota, Lexus, and Scion cars.

But even the most loyal Camry salesman will admit the car isn't exactly designed to carve up the twisty Long Beach circuit. So Toyota made some changes.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at the Long Beach Grand Prix

The cars' modifications start with a full roll cage inside. The engineers from Toyota's aftermarket race division TRD then bolted on a completely new, race-tuned suspension. Ultra-sticky tires are wrapped around BBS wheels. The brakes' calipers are StopTech and they're grabbing larger, drilled brake rotors.

The dual exhaust has been swapped out for a louder, more powerful TRD version and the engine's control unit has been reprogrammed to add additional power.

The changes all add up to a surprisingly adept track version of one of the more vanilla cars on the road today. In the capable hands of pros like Formula D driver Joon Maeng, a couple of hot laps in the front-wheel-drive Camry was impressive. With the suspension cinched down and the tires glued to the road, Maeng was at ease as he showed off the highlights of the well-worn track.

The silver, black, and red Camry raced past the iconic fountain, the ever-tricky hairpin turn, and the long straight -- hitting speeds of up to 130 mph, before darting back into the pits to rest.

In addition to the Camrys, other pace cars include a Scion FR-S, Lexus LS, Lexus LFA,  and a race-prepped Lexus IS. The cars will continue their pacing duties throughout Saturday and Sunday's racing events.


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