Skip to content
Lexus Launch 2022 05 19

Lexus Showcases Performance On and Off Track

The Brand Has Found Success in the WeatherTech Championship That Directly Translates to Interest in a Powerful Passenger Line

By John Oreovicz

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Much has changed since Lexus rewrote the playbook when it entered the American luxury car market more than 30 years ago promising “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.”

That pursuit continues, but the premium automaker’s vision has expanded to include driving enjoyment and vehicle dynamics in addition to the marque’s established high standards of comfort, refinement and build quality. Lexus created the “F” sub-brand to differentiate its top-level performance cars, like the Lexus RC F coupe that forms the basis of the RC F GT3 that competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“F” was used as an internal code within Toyota to signify “flagship” when it was developing the original Lexus LS 400 sedan that debuted to rave reviews in 1989. The spirit of that groundbreaking LS lives on as the LS 600h, but Lexus has expanded from its initial two offerings to a full lineup of sedans, SUVs and sports cars.

That expansion, with an increased emphasis placed on an involved driving experience, was driven by Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda. “F” now unofficially represents Fuji Speedway, the Japanese racing circuit owned by Toyota that is used as a proving ground by Lexus.

“That’s the flavor Akio Toyoda has now – his passion for performance,” said Jeff Bal, North American motorsports manager for Lexus. “When I started with the company in 1998, if you didn’t have a golf handicap under 12, they might not hire you. That was the connection; all the dealers and executives loved to golf. Those days are long gone. It’s almost preferred now if you have a helmet and driving shoes in the trunk and you’re a racing fan.”

IMSA Ties Run Deep

01 Cgr Lexus 2005 2022 05 19

Lexus’ involvement in IMSA competition began when it supplied engines that powered prototypes fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing to 25 race wins between 2004-09.

Lexus entered the WeatherTech Championship as a full-fledged manufacturer in 2017, and since 2019 its cars have been fielded in conjunction with Vasser Sullivan, the racing team co-owned by former IndyCar champion Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.

This year, the Lexus effort features one car in the GTD PRO class (the No. 14 RC F GT3 driven by Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat, which has earned back-to-back second-place finishes) and another in GT Daytona (the No. 12 shared by Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo that finished third in class Sunday in the aptly named Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio).

Lexus has won nine races since 2018 and claimed the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup championship, a season that included four GTD wins and seven podium finishes.

Bal noted that racing-themed events have been extremely well supported by fans and dealers in the Columbus, Ohio, market, and Lexus hosted around 400 guests for this year’s Mid-Ohio race weekend. “When the sponsorship opportunity came along, it was a no-brainer to get behind it,” he said.

Sports Car Success = Showroom Success

 

Galstad Mido 0522 130363 2022 05 20

He added that Lexus is pleased with the response to its IMSA program as a whole, from car enthusiasts and dealers.

“You can have success in prototypes or open-wheel racing like Formula 1 or IndyCar, but that doesn’t always necessarily translate to the showroom,” Bal said. “Here we have something that looks every bit as close to a car in the showroom as can be.

“We do independent research throughout the season with surveys at the track, and the consideration of Lexus as a performance brand among consumers who intend purchasing, those numbers are exponentially growing from when we first started racing five years ago to where we are now,” he continued. “That’s proof to me that we’re doing the right thing. To be here in sports car racing where people can see us competing against other prestigious brands, that’s really helping us connect the dots. We’re getting a lot of attention for Lexus as a performance brand, and it’s happening quickly.”

Hitting the Road

Lexus 4 2022 05 20

I recently discovered for myself how Lexus has expanded the brand’s repertoire when I was loaned an IS 500 F Sport Performance during my coverage of the IMSA race weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California.

With time to kill before a Monday night redeye flight home, I planned an ambitious day of driving that highlighted the IS 500’s intriguing combination of luxury car polish and muscle car swagger.

A tastefully appointed interior and crisp Mark Levinson audio system were appreciated while slowly cruising the 17 Mile Drive, encompassing high-end mansions and the famous Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Cypress Point golf courses.

The pace picked up for a 100-mile run down California Highway 1, best known as the Pacific Coast Highway. The IS 500’s compact size and instant acceleration offered by the car’s 472-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine were hugely beneficial on what is often a narrow, twisty road with few straight stretches for passing.

Past Cambria, I cut inland for lunch in Paso Robles before heading east on California Highway 46 to Cholame and the site of actor James Dean’s fatal accident. From that dangerous intersection with California 41, I started my journey back to the Bay Area, stopping in the town of Coalinga for a snack and exercise break.

Lexus 3 2022 05 20

Traffic thinned out nicely for this stretch, proving that California can indeed be a driver’s paradise when conditions are right. The IS 500 was an ideal tool for this day of mixed driving, with substantial cornering grip and instant throttle response (not to mention that intoxicating V-8 rumble and exhaust note) for those deserted back roads, and the ability to transform into a docile cruiser back in the real world of traffic lights and congested freeways.

Lexus was immediately accepted as a serious competitor in the luxury car arena, and cars like the IS 500 F Sport Performance demonstrate how quickly the brand has been able to establish a presence in the premium performance car market.

It’s certainly a car capable of making any drive to the golf course or the race track a lot more entertaining.

Note: The Lexus Performance Driving School is offered at five North American road courses, with personal instruction from notable drivers including 11-time sports car champion Scott Pruett and NBC television analyst Townsend Bell. Remaining venues available in 2022 include Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 8-10) and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Aug. 26-28). For more information, visit  www.lexusperformancedrivingschool.com