IRL: Toyota power in sunny California

Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has grown from an idea for promoting high performance parts to a group of three large buildings abutting the John Wayne International Airport in Costa Mesa, CA. Employing more than 220 people all dedicated to ...

Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has grown from an idea for promoting high performance parts to a group of three large buildings abutting the John Wayne International Airport in Costa Mesa, CA.

Employing more than 220 people all dedicated to making Toyota engines the most powerful and reliable in the Indy Racing League, NASCAR Goody's Dash Series, off-road racing, import drag racing, Grand-Am sports cars and, soon, NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series, TRD now has three structures to house its corps: two at the Costa Mesa address for machine operations and engine rebuilding and one in nearby Tustin, which houses its aftermarket, grass roots and Toyota Atlantic operations.

Aside from Penske Racing's shops, this is where all IndyCar Series Toyota engines are constructed and rebuilt. Everything from engine blocks to cylinder heads are built here with precious little out-sourced. Pete Spence, vice president and technical director took this reporter on a group tour of the facility prior to the Toyota Indy 400, the company's first time as naming sponsor for an IndyCar event.

"Raw material comes in one end and complete engines leave at the other," Spence related. "We do one at a time so that we can update specs rather than making engines in batches." Because IRL specs allow engine makers to change the power mills from the cylinder head up, TRD can constantly work on the engines to increase power, reliability and shelf life of all parts. These days, a life span of 550 on-circuit miles is normal for one of Toyota's IndyCar Series engines.

The facility is quite new, built in 1995, and the machinery housed in it is state-of-the-art, as one would expect. It takes a full week to rebuild these engines, from the mills, lathes, electronics needed to, thus far, win 10 of 14 races held leading up to this weekend's event at California Speedway in Fontana.

TRD will celebrate its 25th anniversary with the 2004 racing season and the company has many notable marks in its storied history. Since its inception, Toyota and TRD have won the classic Daytona 24 Hour and Sebring 12 Hour sports car races, Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Baja 500 and Baja 1000 off- road races. This season marked the first time in 20 years an American- designed and built engine has won the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, as Gil de Ferran took a TRD power mill to Victory Lane in his Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force.

Components designed at TRD headquarters have vast quality control reviews by both machines and humans. Large Zeiss machines test in-house components to gauge efficiency and tolerances. The large facility (totaling 80,000 square feet) has a $1 million roof air conditioning system which sets temperature at plus/minus 20 degrees Centigrade and this is maintained at all times, as the aluminum used in TRD's engines has a tendency to expand far more than steel.

Mills get to five sides of machined components in $1 million DMG German- made unit, with error codes built in to send information to operators should any component have minute difficulties. At this moment, Spence said, TRD is machining only aluminum. It takes 2.5 hours, on average to machine block aluminum into usable product.

Wondering about acceptable tolerances in the machining of parts? Try measurements of 1/2-1 micron. The trash bags we purchase have a 10-micron thickness, for comparison bases. In the teardown and crack-test area of this facility, there are identical production test cells for leaks, performance and tolerance testing.

The electronics part of this factory makes a varied number of pieces, including individual steering wheels for each driver in the Indy Racing League. With 11 drivers - and different stipulations for the number of buttons on the steering wheel - the job is time consuming. The maximum number of informative buttons on an IRL steering wheel is 11; Newman/Haas Racing's 2002 CART title-winning Lola/Toyota, TRD supplied a steering wheel for Cristiano da Matta with 16 different buttons!

Chassis and engine wiring harnesses are contained in a single large pod and six fulltime assembly technicians are dedicated to the IRL program: one inspector, inventory administrator and dyno technician on each of two 10- hour shifts. With 35 chassis for the 11 IRL Toyota drivers, pedal iterations are extremely important. There's no calibration involved; rather, the pedal must work the same each time. Interestingly, GM teams also buy their pedals from TRD.

A combination alternator/water pump developed by the firm saves both space and weight, according to Steve Wickham, senior manager of the electronics department. His group's engine and chassis harnesses might take as many as 40 man-hours for completion and they are made to resist heat and vibration, two enemies of all things electronic. Each Toyota team has at least one spare set.

TRD has dual development transit dynamometers with which they can simulate performance and drive cycles on any given circuit. The Indy cycle is actually a 600-mile test and TRD's Spence is proud to point out the engines for CART's 2002 campaign were capable of 18,000rpm and regularly turned 17,000rpm by the end of the season.

For Indy Racing applications, dynos are set to run at the mandated 10,400rpm level. "To go beyond that would be off the performance curve," Spence noted. The dyno department can have as many as 12 development engines working on any given day.

There are 50 members of the engine assembly team who tear down, wash, crack- test and rebuild each IRL motor. The group allocates 140 man-hours from teardown to dyno room and, Spence said, "It's a very busy place most of the season as we're building and rebuilding as many as 500 engines" for the 2003 IRL campaign.

What happens to scrap material from all of this engine manufacturing? TRD has a partner who takes locked-up scrap to a destruction facility with a witness from TRD. While they label each piece with a serial number to limit liability, some parts stay within the confines of TRD for durability tests, rather than going for immediate dispersal.

In the design and engineering area, there are test and development groups for the Indy Racing League and NASCAR departments. Flexibility of design and the ability to speedily put new parts into play is a priority for this group. Using computer-aided design, the new truck motor went six weeks from design to initial production, and to date four motors have been produced.

There are two cells for valvetrain testing on-site. Using 20-30-minute cycles, the mills are subject to brief visual inspections before they are run again. It's a three-phase program of run-in with inspection and engines can spend up to eight minutes wide open. The IRL motors are, Spence admits, "fresh when they arrive at the track" and subject to each driver's use.

TRD president and CEO Jim Aust has wanted to open the facility for tours of this type "for a long time. This facility is comparable to our Formula One factory, only they have more toys," he laughed. "Equipment-wise and personnel-wise, we're on par with the F1 team. And we do exchange information with them." Lee White, general manager and group vice president of TRD added, "They are trying to become a TRD."

Both White and Aust discussed their competitors and their different approaches to engine design and building. "Ilmor (making engines for Honda) is a rebuild facility as is the Torrance Cosworth factory," which produces the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8. "The difference," White emphasized, "is that we have one place while our competitors are spread around.

"We are in the Indy Racing League for the long term," White stated. "We have a phenomenal working relationship with Brian Barnhart and it is our intention to stay in the IRL. The competition is pretty damn good." The next big project for TRD? That would be designing and building the 2006 Indy Racing League power mill, once its parameters are decided upon, which shows White's theory well.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Brian Barnhart , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske , Toyota Racing