Yes, Toyota Racing is testing the sprint car waters.
The carmaker jumped into the deep end last month with Gio Scelzi behind the wheel of a 410 sprinter for the All Star Circuit of Champions season opener at Screven Motor Speedway.
Toyota Racing Development announced in December 2019 plans to design a sprint car engine that would comply with World of Outlaws, All Star Circuit of Champions and USAC specifications with 410i and 360ci displacements. The legwork began in August earlier that year.
After four decades of Toyota competing in American motorsports, David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said it was time.
“From the first year we started racing on dirt with the midgets, we started getting the questions, ‘Hey, this is great but when are you going to do a 410 sprint car engine?’ I have said for years, that’s on our bucket list,” Wilson said. “It’s just about appropriating the budget for it and finding the right partners to make sure that we do a good job of it.
“So, very quietly last year we pulled the trigger and decided that it was the right time. We had some resources we could apply against it. We had some partners who were willing to work with us so we went about designing, developing and manufacturing a 410 sprint car engine. We hit the track with it for the first time a few weeks ago with Gio Scelzi. I think the first time out, he finished respectably. He won a dash his second race out. But I would moderate our expectation.”
Following a year-and-half of development, the TRD power plant that debuted in the No. 18 KCP Racing machine didn’t disappoint. Scelzi qualified fourth, finished fourth in his dash and seventh in the feature the first night. On the second night, Scelzi was third quick in qualifying, won his dash and finished sixth in the A-Main.
Wilson has reason to be cautiously optimistic. Ford Performance introduced the FPS 410 engine—a collaboration with Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing and Durham Racing engines in August of 2019 that has yet to yield optimum results.
TRD partnered with Speedway Engine Development, Inc., and Rider Racing Engines to get the project rolling.
“It’s a brand new power plant,” Wilson said. “It looks great. I’m confident knowing our guys and knowing the guys we’re working with that it’s going to be a good piece. Right now one of the biggest problems is fending off all of the people who want to help and want to be a part of it.
“It really fills out our positioning as a manufacturer in dirt racing because as you know the number of races every year that are on dirt between midgets are too many to count. So, it’s something that we’re really excited about.”
Toyota Racing Development doesn’t take competition lightly. TRD holds a bold footprint in USAC and POWRi midgets with Keith Kunz Motorsports, Dave Mac Motorsports and Chad Boat’s CB Industries among others. Expect a calculated approach when the factory selects its sprint partners.
“As to a team strategy, we haven’t formulated whether we’re going to pick one or two headliners to kind of get our presence out there from a ‘factory basis’ right now. We want to make sure that commercially it’s viable because in this class of racing you have to have a product that’s not only competitive but it’s commercially competitive. We don’t want to be the odd man out that has something that’s way too expensive to race.
“So we’re trying to address it from that side first. I think we’ll have several opportunities should we decide to put a factory effort together, but we haven’t decided that yet.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Scelzi was on the fast track to transition to stock cars. He won a Pro Late Model race at New Smyrna Speedway one year ago and was scheduled to compete in the No. 16 Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing in ARCA Menard’s Series—East and West tours. In his rookie season, Scelzi completed the full West schedule and finished fifth in the standings with one win, seven top fives and nine top 10s in 11 races.
Last summer, Scelzi was tabbed by KCP to replace Ian Madsen. While Scelzi still hopes to pursue a pavement path, Toyota has provided the teenager with a solid opportunity in open wheel which includes at least 80-percent of the World of Outlaws schedule.
“We’re not going to pigeon-hole any of our drivers,” Wilson said. “I think right now, Gio is happy to help. He has a great deal of experience. He can help us develop this. But certainly, this won't limit him from going other places if the right opportunities present themselves.”