The Need for Speed

Racing the RC F in IMSA’s GTD class helps to prove the brand is now about luxury and performance 

September 06, 2017

Double Dose -- Lexus Motorsports' twin RC F GT3 race cars accelerate through a curve during IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car racing this season.

Until recently, mentioning “Lexus” in the same breath as “aggressive,” “striking” and – even more so – “sinister” didn’t happen very often.
 
But those are the words Mark Egger – Lexus’ Motorsports and Accessories manager – uses when he waxes poetic about the brand’s entries in IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car racing.
 
“We’re going through a definite shift of our brand image,” says Egger. “It’s not that our cars are any less luxurious. They still have the great ride and range of features that our traditional customers love. It’s just that, more and more, they also deliver a high level of performance. That’s more likely to appeal to younger buyers.”


Quick Work -- The GT3 crew readies the No. 14 RC F to re-enter the fray in an IMSA GTD race.

Revving Up the Brand
 
This shift began about 10 years ago when Lexus introduced the IS F, a souped up version of its entry-level sports sedan. Since then, Lexus has expanded its range of F models and, at a lower price point, introduced the performance-minded F Sport package. It also rolled out such cars as the LFA, RC and LC – dramatic departures from the bread-and-butter sedans and SUVs that put Lexus on the map.
 
Still, it’s one thing to say you build performance cars. It’s quite another to prove it. And one of the best ways to do that is to go racing.
 
Cue the matching pair of – as Egger describes them -- aggressive, striking and sinister Lexus RC F GT3 race cars.

Gaining On It -- In their inaugural season, Lexus' RC F racers have improved from qualifying in the middle of the pack to up near the front row, claiming the pole position at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in July.

Measured Expectations
 
Starting with the Rolex 24-Hour race at Daytona International Speedway in January and concluding with the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October, Lexus will have campaigned the two cars in all 12 of the series’ races this season. Each entry has two drivers: Sage Karam and Robert Alon pilot the No. 14 RC F and Jack Hawksworth and Scott Pruett co-drive the No. 15 car. Additional drivers come on board for the endurance races.
 
The effort is managed by 3GT Racing which is owned and operated by five-time Trans-Am Series champion Paul Gentilozzi and his partners Tony and John Gentilozzi. They’ve been involved in motorsports for more than 45 years. And TRD is assisting with the development.
 
In other words, Lexus is in it to win it. Eventually.
 
“We’re up against manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, Aston Martin, Mercedes-
Benz and Porsche that have been competing in this class for many years,” says Egger. “We know we have a steep learning curve. At this point, we have measured expectations.”

Establishing a Presence -- IMSA race fans can do more that watch the RC Fs compete on the track. They can touch and feel Lexus' latest production vehicles off of it.

“The Car is Fast”
 
Still, progress is being made. At the start of the season, the RC Fs qualified in the middle of the pack. Now they routinely lock down starting positions closer to the front of the field. In July, they claimed the pole at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Ontario and finished 5th. And they’ve recorded 11 top 10 finishes between both cars through the first 10 events.
 
“We have to walk before we can run,” says Egger. “The goal this year is to learn the car, learn the tracks, compile the data and have something to build on for next year. But the car is fast and we’re learning how to make it go even faster.”
 
That’s crucial to changing preconceived notions about the brand. The cars that compete in this class of racing are essentially production vehicles with safety modifications. So while the RC F GT3 weighs about 1,300 pounds less (thanks in large part to the use of carbon fiber panels) and is fitted with much larger wheels and tires, its mechanical components – including the Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), starter button, lights and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters – are the same as you’d find in an RC F on a Lexus dealership’s showroom floor.
 
In this case, the old adage of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” really does apply.

Tech Trailer -- The traveling "Lexus Racing Experience" hospitality venue helps make the case for the brand's emerging performance credentials.

Fan Engagement
 
Meanwhile, Lexus is making its presence felt off the track as much as on it. The “Lexus Racing Experience” hospitality trailer and vehicle display travels from event to event, giving IMSA fans the chance to see and experience an RC F GT3 up close and personal.
 
“The racing is great. But engaging with fans, that’s why we’re doing this,” says Egger. “Racing can build an excitement and passion for the brand in our dealers and our customers. This is a long-term commitment. And it’s global. Lexus is fully engaged to field cars in multiple race series in Europe, Asia and the US.
 
“The message to our customers and our competitors is very simple: Lexus Motorsports is here to stay,” adds Egger. “And we’re here to win.”
 
By Dan Miller

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