"An automatic Yaris: I know, you're probably thinking 'Who races an automatic Yaris?! hahaha".
We've all heard it: those people who feel the need to make fun of everyone for anything thats not mainstream or out of their comfort zone. That same initial reaction you're having was a regular response to my constant efforts to learn how to modify and successfully autocross our Yaris in early 2013. Now fast forward to April 2015, where my efforts saw progress. I placed 2nd at the SCCA National Tour at Crows Landing. After, I placed 5th at the Pro Solo. While this isn't winning, I was the only guy in STF with an automatic transmission. Since then I've done a lot more autocross and even managed to do laps at Thunderhill Raceway and the iconic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Unfortunately, during the El Nino of 2016 our Yaris fell victim to the storms. The engine was hydrolocked and ended its run at 184,000 miles.
The 1.5L 1NZFE was parted out to other Yaris owners, and I purchased a 1.8L 2ZRFE from a auto recycler in LA. The 2ZR is a perfect fit for the Yaris chassis, and instantly made the car so much more fun to drive and race. However, the original automatic transmission was struggling to keep up. I continued to autocross the car and was even featured on "The Smoking Tire". In June 2016 the car was retired so we could care for our new baby, and by now everyone seemed to be noticing the potential of the Yaris.
A few months later the process began to convert the car to a C50 manual transmission, and thanks to Bret, from Yawsport and Moto, at Cusco, we ordered a Type-RS LSD. Once the LSD arrived it was mounted with the Scion 4.3 final drive and the transmission was assembled to OE spec. Neal at The Racers Line provided the proper flywheel for my swap, and a Corolla clutch was fitted to match my manual transmission. Now that the car was running again we published a short reveal video, and the 10 year old, sun faded interior was removed for future roll cage installation. Luis, over at Konig Wheels, hooked us up with a set of 15x8 gold Dial-ins. I bought 3 sets of random, used Rcompound tires and now we were ready to race at the first event of 2017.
Unfortunately, the January event was canceled due to bad weather. We had to wait it out another month. I got together with my friend and co-driver, John, and we planned to do a co-drive of the car at its first event on Feb 12th. We decided to throw on a Sparco steering wheel last minute in true racecar fashion. Huge thanks to Paul with Circuit Motorsports for the hookup!
The morning of the event we show up at 7:30AM sharp and set up our canopy then went to do the course walk. Because this was the first event of the year, the line to register was eleventy billion miles long, so we started changing the wheels on the car and setting up the GoPros.
Eventually we got registered and the car passed the tech inspection (duh). John did some laps around the empty lot to get a feel for the car. We worked the second run group so we got to see cars at speed and their lines, witch kinda helps when you haven't stepped onto a autocross course in 8 months.
The time had finally came and it was our turn to drive this thing and I was up first. I pulled the car into the grid and got strapped in while John got the tire data charts and gauges ready. The 2 driver line moves first so I was directed to the starting line behind some rather loud muscle cars running in CAM class. I get to the starting line and my main goal is to not spin the tires too much, just a gentle but effective start. That didn't happen. I spun through first and part of second. Thats the 2ZR for ya, torque. We started with 34psi tire pressure so the first lap was very lively, the rear would come around with ease and made it feel even more exciting. There was plenty of grip in the turns and it seemed to claw its way around the course like a hungry animal, rewarding your bravery to stay on the power. Before the LSD, driving with the automatic felt more like a dance where you need to be gentle and power delivery resembled; "this is what you get, good luck".
We did all of our runs without one mechanical issue or complaint, only spinning the car once. We ended up at 30psi front, 28psi rear to keep our used BFG R1S's temperatures even. The times we put down are not a representation of the car, but shows how rusty our driving has become by not attending events. We were knocking off half seconds or more on each lap, thats an indication we were still learning. Racing is like any other sport, and you need to keep practicing and sharpening your skills to remain competitive. I did a 55.04, John did a 55.11. Not great, but not terrible either. We left satisfied that we have a solid car, and the future is filled with events where we can focus on improving our driving
Next month is the SCCA San Diego Match Tour, and we will be better, faster. I am forever grateful to everyone involved with this car. We are truly what the SCCA has promoted all these years: a racing family.
Check out the event video and don't forgot to subscribe to our Youtube Channel!
Special Thanks to:
John B. Neil W. Taylor K. Simon B. Sam R. Chad H. David V. Justin J.