Epic Hybrid Racing: Pushing the Toyota Altis GR-S HEV to the limits

When you think of hybrid vehicles, you’d imagine them to be slow, economical cars. That’s what they’re built for after all; miles per gallon instead of smiles per gallon. With that in mind, the last place you would probably see a hybrid vehicle is on the race track.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when they saw a track-prepped Corolla Altis GR-S Hybrid in the paddocks at Clark International Speedway during the 2nd round of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Vios Cup last weekend.

Will it be the lead car for the circuit? Will they be parading it around to showcase the Gazoo Racing brand? Surely, Toyota Motor Philippines won’t be fielding it alongside the Vios OMRs right?

Well, it seems that’s what happened, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the drivers of the Altis GR-S HEV race car.

How’d I get here? Well, let’s wind back the clock a bit.

Toyota Altis Hybrid GR-S Her 3

How the Toyota Altis GR-S HEV Racing Experience

A few days before the Vios Cup, TMP called me up asking if I was free during the Vios Cup weekend to drive the upcoming Altis GR-S HEV, showing off its capabilities during the autocross round. I would be driving together with Gazoo Racing ambassador and professional racer Marlon Stockinger who would be driving the hybrid racer on the track with the Vios OMRs.

I initially thought it would be chill since it was an exhibition only. No competition, just see how capable the Altis GR-S HEV would be. But that all changed when I arrived in Clark the night before the Vios Cup. There, I was told that I would be competing against Marlon Stockinger and Milo Rivera – two pro drivers and arguably the best in town – in a few rounds of autocross.

Having skipped Friday practice, I called it a night early since I needed to make the most out of the 6:30 AM practice on Saturday. Upon arriving at the track early in the morning, I had my reservations about the Altis GR-S HEV race car regarding its handling.

While I am used to driving the Vios OMR while I was still competing in the Vios Autocross Challenge, the Altis is a much bigger car and wider car. It’s also a hybrid, meaning it’s a lot heavier with the added weight of batteries and the electric motor. More importantly, the Altis GR-S HEV race car is still under development with the vehicle mostly still stock.

After being given a sighting lap of the autocross layout in a Vios OMR, I set off to practice in the Altis GR-S HEV. To my surprise, the car handled well despite the stock suspension. The turn-ins were sharp, and it was easy to adapt despite coming from the Vios just a few minutes earlier. There was a noticeable body roll when chucking it into the chicanes and under hard braking, but it was easy to adapt to.

But what stunned me the most was the acceleration. Unlike the Vios OMR which took a while before getting to the powerband, the torque on the Altis was almost immediate. I actually had to adjust my footwork to make sure I was not getting on the power too early.

My first few practice runs with the Altis weren’t the best, but I did expect that. Still, I was confident I could push the car further. More importantly, I saw that the Altis GR-S HEV race car had a lot of potential for autocross because I was able to beat my time in Vios using the Altis.

It was far from the perfect autocross competition car at the time. Mind you, it was only the second day of testing for the Altis GR-S HEV race car. There was a lot of body roll and the tires weren’t grippy enough, but with a new suspension, better tires, and lightweight wheels, the times could be improved further. There’s also some issue with the brakes engaging ABS if you brake too aggressively, but I’m sure the guys at TMP will be working on that as well.

Toyota Altis Hybrid GR-S Her 1

Come exhibition time (or is it competition time?), Milo, Marlon, and I each had one more practice run which was run alongside the Vios OMRs on the autocross track. Even during practice, we were setting times a few seconds faster than the Vios could. Granted there could be a difference in skills, but still it’s one fast autocross car.

If you watched the live stream or the competition live at Clark International Speedway, you probably have an idea of how things went down during my race with Marlon and Milo. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil you, but you can watch the replay.

All of us agree though that the Altis GR-S HEV racecar is competitive, and there’s still a lot of potential to unlock. Despite it being a hybrid, the additional systems to make it more economical aren’t holding it back, and I can’t wait to see what TMP has in store for the car in the future. More importantly, it shows that hybrid vehicles that are meant for everyday use can be competitive on track in the right hands.

Hopefully, TMP will invite me once again to drive the improved version of the Toyota Altis GR-S HEV in the final leg of the Vios Cup in a few months. Maybe this time, we’ll be setting times on the race track instead of just an autocross course.

Jose Altoveros
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