Car feature: The Toyota Yaris

The Toyota Yaris, a sensible and cheap car. A car mostly driven by elderly people. A women’s car, with lots of storage space in the dash and mirrors in both sun visors. I myself own one for more than four years now. I fell in love with it the moment I walked in the dealership’s showroom and I bought it as my first car. Immediately I catched the tuning virus, but to my dissappointment I discovered there aren’t any aftermarket parts available besides some hideous bodykits or incredibly rare and ridiculously expensive performance parts. So I started making my own, I spend countless hours modifying parts intended for other cars to fit my Yaris.

Through the Dutch Yarisclub I met another Yaris enthousiast, William, and we quickly started visiting meets and shows together. He bought his Yaris a few weeks after I bought mine. It’s actually his second one after wrecking the first in an accident on the motorway. He quickly started building his Yaris into an award-winning show car. However a few years ago he decided he wanted to go racing and did what everybody does when he finds himself that situation: He ripped apart his show car to turn it into something more suitable for the track.

He competed in the 2012 Time Attack races to gain some racing experience and to discover the weak points of his car. Many of these were addressed during the winter and a few days before the start of the first Time Attack race in 2013. I drove to the workshop of his main sponsor, SV Sportscars, to do a photoshoot of the car.

This car was built with the same engine as my own Yaris, the 1.3 litre 2NZ-FE. While it’s perfectly suitable for everyday traffic it isn’t the most powerfull engine and William quickly decided he needed more power. With a heart transplant to a 1.5 litre 1NZ-FE along with its gearbox with much shorter gear ratios he got what he needed. All the goodies he bolted on his old engine were transplanted to the new engine, such as a 4-2-1 exhaust manifold connected to a 2.25” stainless steel exhaust with less restrictive catalytic converter and a HKS HiPower muffler. On the intake side the engine breaths more freely through a K&N CAI mounted to a very short intake trajectory. All this results in about 120 HP on the crank, not bad for a car that weighs little over 850 kilos!

But you can’t win races with horsepower alone, good handling is also very (if not even more) important. William has to compete against cars with three or four times his performance so he decided to make his car handle as good as he could. He replaced the stock suspension with D2 coilovers and removed the front swaybar to replace it with a thicker one made by C-One. A Summit strutbar and poly-urethane parts to replace the rubbers completed the suspension at the front. The rear has always been the Yaris’ weak spot handling-wise and William fitted a strutbar and a Whiteline ARB to improve the handling tremendously.

For more stopping power the tiny disc brakes at the front were replaced by bigger discs with Ferrodo pads. At the rear the whole axle along with the drum brakes was replaced by axle with disc brakes sourced from a T-Sport. To increase grip and lower the unsprung weight the car rolls on lightweight Lenso Monoblocks wrapped in 195/50/r15 Federal tyres.

The car was quite light when it left the factory, but to further lower the weight the interior was stripped as much as possible. The rear seats, the carpets and the headliner were removed along with almost all the bitumen found in the interior. A roll cage from the B-pillar to the back was welded in place to increase the safety and the stiffness of the car.

The battery was moved from under the hood to the space formerly occupied by the spare wheel. To avoid toxic fumes and liquids in the interior the battery is fitted inside a battery box that ventilates to the outside through a hole in the bottom of the car. This noticibly changes the handling of the Yaris, because it alters the weight distribution and the battery is sitting almost 30 centimeters lower in the car.

My car has quite decent seats but this Yaris was originally a different trim level with very bad seats. William quickly replaced the front seats with a set of Whitehooker bucket seats. These weren’t good enough when he started racing, so he fitted a QSP seat which he replaced for this season with an OMP TRS along with a QSP harness.

Along with upgraded seats came an upgraded steering wheel. William replaced his rather nice leather steering wheel with a Momo wheel a few years back. This year he swapped the Momo for a new QSP item, and a nice one if you ask me. It’s very thick and a lot smaller than the original wheel which is more akin to a steering wheel found in a lorry if you ask me.

The stock digital gauges, which are awesome if you ask me, are replaced by a set of analog gauges from a T-Sport. This was actually necessary since swapping a 1NZ-FE from a facelift T-Sport built in France to a Japanese-built pre-facelift Yaris involves replaces all wiring looms under the hood and in the dash. But it has some benefits too, because this tachometer is much easier to read than the tiny digital one in the stack gauge cluster.

A tacho, a speedometer and a few warning lights are perfectly suitable for everyday driving, but on the track you want to know a bit more about the condition of you car. Oil temperature is one of those things that are very important. A gauge was fitted to one of the vents in the dashboard where it’s easily visible. Their is a clear difference between the positions of the needle between cold, normal and hot temperatures on this particalur gauge, so it’s very easy to read in a glance.

The stock shifter with its enormous throws was replaced by a rather rare adjustable short shifter. It shortens shift times considerably and it’s also a lot easier to shift to the correct gear. Downshifting to the correct gear, for example, is a lot more accurate. Missing the correct gear on the track can seriously damage or destroy the running gear of a car, so this is particularly important.

Well, how does this all perform on the track? The first race of the 2013 Time Attack season was also the first time on the track with the new engine so it was very difficult to predict the results. The TT circuit in Assen, The Netherlands, is originally designed for motor racing and this Yaris isn’t very well suited for the short straights and tight turns because the gear ratios are a bit too long for this type of track.

For some reason the track was extremely slippery during the races and I witnessed a lot of spins and a few crashes caused by a loss of grip. William spun four times, and that wasn’t even a record, in the warm-up session and understandebly decided to take it easy the rest of warm-up and the qualification. The lap times were consequently far worse than expected, but more importantly the car worked perfectly during both the warm-up and the qualification sessions. I hope the conditions of the track are a lot better at the next race because I’m very anxious to see what this little Yaris can do after all the hard work William and the guys of SV Sportscars put into it.

You might have read it between the lines, but I frequently compare this car to my own. While I decided to improve the performance and handling of my car while retaining, or even adding, creature comforts William’s Yaris is a perfect example what you can achieve when you want to turn it into a more track-orientated car. My Yaris will always be special to me since it’s my very first car, but William’s will be one of those other cars I’ll have fond memories of after seeing it evolve over a longer period of time. One of those cars will be featured on our blog in the near future, but for now I would like to hear your opinions on this one!

Alex Kamsteeg