Julian Bailey, works Toyota driver in the 1993 BTCC offers a few thoughts on the new Supra, and on life in general as a touring car driver
I’II tell you what I found most impressive about it. I was driving around Brands Hatch on the club circuit, and it was pulling about 125 mph coming into Paddock.
“That is quick for a road car.”
It only takes a few seconds to realise that Julian Bailey really did enjoy his stint at the wheel of the new Supra.
This is more than marque loyalty. His voice chirps with genuine enthusiasm.
“Clearways was taken in third, and it’s really good through there. l was up into fifth coming into Paddock, almost on the limiter. I was surprised. It’s quite a heavy car, and you notice that on the circuit. It takes some stopping, but the brakes are really good. The great thing about it is that it’s all so progressive. It doesn’t snap away or anything.
“I was a little stunned, to be honest,” continues the man whose usual mode of company transport is the somewhat tamer, though class-competitive, Carina GTi. “The thing that makes the Supra so good, in my mind, is the engine. It’s got so much torque, which makes it very easy to drive. Everything about it inspires confidence, though I felt the gearchange could perhaps have been a little slicker.
“The only trouble is that you think you’re bumbling along and you look down and you’re doing 110 or something.
“I have to say that I’m not sure about the looks” – he agrees that certain elements of the shape are redolent of the worst excesses of 1960s Americana – “but it is unusual. It was certainly a head turner.”
There are those who would argue that the Supra’s mass of electronic aids compromises its ability as a sports car. Bailey has mixed views. “It’s not really an out-and-out performance car, is it? It’s a Grand Tourer, and I like some of the accessories. Cruise control makes a lot of sense in this car. Without it, I get the feeling that I could get myself into a lot of trouble. As I said, it’s so easy to break the speed limit without meaning to.
“I also like the traction control. Or rather I like the fact that you can switch it off. But it’s nice to have the option, if it’s snowing or something.
“Around Brands, it was hopeless coming out of Druids or Clearways with the traction control on, and brilliant if you switched it off. Generally, I think it handles superbly at the limit. You can really throw it about if you want to, but the adhesion levels are so high that you have to be really shifting before it breaks away.”
Bailey feels that the car’s limits are such that the optional John Watson Performance Driving Course is only for those who really want to venture somewhere close to them. “If you’ve got the money, you can go and buy an F40 for the road, can’t you? In the wrong hands, that could be lethal. The Supra is very safe, particularly when you switch the traction control on.
“I think it’s quite practical, too. You can get a couple of kids in the back, though that would take up most of the luggage space.
“It doesn’t have the same status as a Porsche or a Ferrari, of course, but I’d say it offers you better value for money. It’s not expensive for what it is.”
In 1994, Bailey will once again contest the British Touring Car Championship, though he hadn’t signed a contract as MOTOR SPORT went to press. He’s enjoyed his first-full season as a professional driver in anything other than single-seaters or World Championship sportscars. “It was quite hard to start with. I hadn’t been on these circuits for such a long time. I had to go and releam Snetterton, OuIton Park and so on. Once I got to grips with it I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to next year.
“One thing I don’t like is the contact, which goes on all the time. Having got used to the discipline of single-seaters, where you don’t touch people – you get close, but you don’t hit them – there is a school of thought here which says that you can lean on people. I think we should stay away from each other, then you know where you stand. How far do you lean on someone? It’s very easy to gain an advantage just by hitting someone up the boot. I just think all contact should be avoided, but I accept that’s part of the reason the series is so popular.
“If I watch a race, I like to see a bit of contact. I just don’t like to be in it!
“It’s a thin line. I’ve had people hit me up the back and all of a sudden I’ve lost two places. I don’t like that at all.
“I’ve had to change my mentality in other ways, too. In F1 , or the World Sportscar Championship, we didn’t have to deal with the public. We just used to sit in our motorhomes, get on with the race and then go home. The BTCC is a much more pro-active series where you have to stand and sign autographs for an hour or so. I don’t mind that at all, but I’d forgotten what it was like. I had to get used to being available again. It was a bit of a culture shock.
“From the driving point of view, I needed a little bit of adjustment to acclimatise to front-wheel drive. The funny thing is that after a while you just get used to it, and just get on with trying to drive it to the limit. Actually, it’s probably a little easier to find the limit in an fwd car, so long as it’s well balanced. Ours was pretty good.
“You can see from what happened when Derek Warwick and Nigel Mansell got in to touring cars (at Donington Park’s TOCA Shoot-Out) that it’s not the sort of thing you pick up straight away.”