Toyota TRD Pro Tundra Testing with Ivan Stewart

Oct. 16, 2014 By Josh Burns, Photos by Josh Burns and Scott Rousseau
Ivan “Ironman” Stewart poses with Monster girls in front of the TRD Pro Tundra racetruck that contest the 2014 Baja 1000. Stewart will not be racing the truck, but he has been consulting with the team in the tuning and testing phase. He’ll also impart his race knowledge to the team on the race weekend.

The mystique of Baja California has attracted off-road racers for decades. The Mexican peninsula’s rugged environment is a place where racers have become off-road legends. While the Dakar Rally and Vegas to Reno events have tried to steal Baja’s thunder, the SCORE Baja 1000 is still hailed by many as the ultimate off-road challenge.

These legends don’t tackle Baja alone, however. A great race vehicle and crew are essential ingredients in the winning formula. And much like the racers who seek the ultimate off-road challenge, truck manufacturers see Baja as the ideal place to validate the off-road capability of their trucks, hence Toyota’s decision to enter a race-prepped version of its exciting new TRD Pro Tundra into the 2014 SCORE Baja 1000. Toyota is competent that the TRD Pro Tundra has what it takes to tame the wilds of Baja.

When Toyota unveiled its new TRD Pro platforms, available in the Tundra, 4Runner and Tacoma, the notion of racing one or all of them in Baja was a virtual certainty, and the factory officially made good on its intentions by entering a TRD Pro Tundra in the Stock Full class in this year’s point-to-point peninsula run. In order to give itself the best possible chance for success, the company has assembled a strong team of drivers to get the truck from the Baja 1000 starting line in Ensenada all the way down to the finish line in La Paz. Tackling the race this year will be TRD Design Engineer Ted Moncure, SCORE Baja 500 Champion Andy Bell, BMX legend Jaime Bestwick, and off-road racer Ryan Millen. Sitting in the navigation seat for the race will be Mike Sweers, Chief Engineer of Toyota Trucks. Sweers will not only help to make sure the truck makes it to La Paz safely, but should anything need to be repaired during the race, who better to have along to help fix the truck than a guy who is intimate with the ins and outs of their design?

The original “Ironman” Ivan Stewart took us on one of the test loops the TRD team has been using while tuning the TRD Pro Tundra for Baja. While it felt like we were hauling across the open desert, Stewart said that he only drove to about 75 percent of the Tundra’s capability. That’s the speed he will suggest the drivers travel on race day to preserve the truck during the 1,130-mile race this November.

SCORE’s Stock Full only allows for minimal modifications to ensure that the class is as close to stock as practicality allows, considering the brutality they will face. Entries must be based on the original frame, though larger tires and minimal suspension tweaks are approved modifications. Toyota officials tell us that they have already invested hundreds of hours in the testing and preparation of the TRD Pro Tundra racetruck, and the team plans to spend a lot more time testing and fine-tuning the vehicle to get everything dialed-in prior to the race.

That’s just what they were doing when Toyota invited us to meet up with the crew while testing in Barstow, California. Not only were we given the opportunity to take box-stock TRD Pro Tundras out for a little high-speed off-roading ourselves, but we were also welcome to hop inside the racetruck for a hot lap with none other than Baja legend and Toyota icon Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. Although Stewart won’t be driving with the TRD Pro team at the Baja 1000 (we wish he was), his decades of off-road experience have already paid off in the form of tuning and preparation recommendations to the race team leading up to the race. On race day, Stewart will be with the crew during the race and consulting with the team drivers before they get behind the wheel at each driver change.

The interior of the TRD Pro that will take on the Baja 1000 is all racetrick - roll cage for added support and safety, navigation for the co-driver, and switches to control everything from fans to radios.

Stewart, who has raced in the uppermost ranks of the Baja 1000 and even developed his own race class, Protruck, was impressed with the capability of the TRD Pro Tundra since he became a part of the program. That may sound like cheerleading, but nobody puts words in the Ironman’s mouth. If Stewart thinks that the race Tundra has a shot at winning the Stock Full class, you can just about put money on it.

“To me, it’s amazing that you can take a stock truck that and make it work as well as it does,” Stewart told us during testing. “By just adding bigger tires and more wheel travel, it’s amazing how well it works. You couldn’t get anywhere near where the technology is now 20 years ago.”

As Stewart alluded to, Toyota has made a few noteworthy changes allowed by the strict Stock Full rules. They include different shock absorbers and suspension adjustments as well as larger tires. The tire combination on the racetruck during our test day was rather unique (though it certainly could change), with BFGoodrich Baja T/As up front and the even more aggressive BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR2s out back.

We had the chance to rip around the desert in 2015 TRD Pro Tundras while out in Barstow with Toyota.

The team has worked especially hard to fine-tune the suspension in an effort to maintain predictable high-speed handling while retaining enough travel for the unexpected dangers that seem to lurk around every corner on the Baja 1000 racecourse. For instance, while the front suspension has a maximum of roughly 11 inches of travel, the current suspension setup uses about 10 inches of that. Likewise, the rear is only using 13 inches of the available 15 inches to create a little buffer room so the suspension won’t bottom easily and beat up the truck.

In addition to driving the truck during test sessions, part of Stewart’s job is to coach the drivers to get a sense of their skills and point out where they’re doing things right and where they need to adjust.

“I ride with them and get a feel for them,” Stewart said of his work with the team. “Mainly I suggest to slow down, getting everything working like a racecar. Throttle, brake, input for steering, shifting, everything has to be done like a racecar. You just can’t start jerking it, because the problem is you can jerk it but eventually you’ll wear it out. There’s a lot of insurance built into the truck, but it can only go so far.”

The reason so many hours are spent testing and tuning off-road racetrucks is to make sure everything is dialed-in perfectly and to expose any weak links on the racetruck. During our test day, the TRD Pro Tundra shredded a brake line, and it needed replacing before Stewart could finish chauffeuring the journalists in attendance.

Many of the TRD Pro team drivers have driven racecars before, but making sure a Stock Full truck gets to the finish line at the Baja 1000 requires cagey driving and a keen sense of knowing how and when to push the truck without pushing it too hard. Stewart says one of the keys to success will be to get the drivers to keep things in perspective over the course of the long and hazardous race. What’s that timeless race adage about slowing down to go fast?

“The biggest challenge I have is getting the guys to slow down, because they are racecar drivers and they want to go race,” Stewart said. “We’ll just have to back it down if we want to make it to La Paz.”

There’s still plenty of testing to be done on the TRD Pro Tundra racetruck, many hours of seat time required for the drivers and undoubtedly a few sleepless nights of prep work for the crew, but Toyota hopes it will all pay off with a celebration at the finish line in La Paz this November. As is the case with any Baja race adventure, the team is sure to come home with plenty of tales from the course. For more information on the TRD Pro models, visit Newsletter
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