The following is a transcription of the media availability with Denny Hamlin – driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing and co-owner of 23XI Racing — and David Wilson – President of Toyota Racing Development.
Provided by: NASCAR Media Services
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and David Wilson, president of TRD.
We’ll go straight to questions.
Q. David, may not be an easy answer, but the process of trying to make something the same but also make them different for the OEMs, how do you describe this process?
DAVID WILSON: Hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel is really what it amounted to. At the very beginning of this journey, when we were trying to draw lines around what we wanted with Next Gen, one of the things that all three OEMs agreed on is more styling relevancy. We wanted to get away from that big, boxy greenhouse. To do that we had to accept the challenge that we’re going to have cars that aren’t as neatly in that aero box that we’ve been used to over the years.
Once we agreed to that parameter, then we went to work collaboratively with our fellow OEMs. As I said, a lot of time in the wind tunnel. The good news is we are comfortable between the three of us. We submitted our cars, gosh, it was a while ago actually. Certainly NASCAR is confident that we’re going to have reasonable parity. We know we have great styling, so that’s all good.
DENNY HAMLIN: One thing I noticed with that, if you look at the cars from the ’90s and ’80s, whatnot, you could tell what type of car it was. If they were all white, you could tell that’s a Pontiac, whatever. These, if you weren’t here, they look different. Like, it’s not just the same car with Toyota headlights and taillights. These cars are a lot different. All three of them have a very distinct and different look from the front and back.
It doesn’t matter what the color scheme is. It’s not the same car with different decals on it, that’s for sure.
Q. Denny, you guys are the best, you’re the points leader, one of the best drivers in the field. Do you conjure up in your mind how long it might take for you to get used to the difference in this car? Do you have to have a lot of confidence to say, Pretty good at what I do, so I should be cream of the crop rising?
DENNY HAMLIN: My dad always used to tell me when people were asked, I was moving up through the ranks, You might be moving him up too fast. He always said, Listen, race car driving is race car driving, it’s just a different machine.
What I really took a lot of pride in, when everything different got thrown my way, I felt like I adapted quickly, whether it be my rookie season, winning at Pocono, a unique track nothing like I ever raced at before, I was able to adapt. When we went through COVID last year, no practice and qualifying, me and my team were able to adapt to that.
I think that’s where I hopefully will shine in this, is that I can use my experience and information that we have to adapt to this whole new machine quicker than everyone else. That’s my goal.
DAVID WILSON: I was talking to Coach right next to the car. We were talking about that exact same thing. From a technology perspective, learning the car and learning where there are margins to develop, everything is so new.
For us, we look at that as a massive opportunity because I think particularly the first year when we get that car on track, we’re going to be drinking through a firehose collectively in the industry. Those organizations and drivers who adapt first will get out front first.
Q. When do you think you’ll get an idea? You have looked at some of the changes. When do you think you’ll have an idea of what you have to adapt to?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, ultimately probably the first test in October or whenever we do the open organizational test with the car. I’ll realize pretty quickly what I need to work on as a driver to adapt.
First thing offhand is the shifting is different. I’m going to need to adapt on road courses to that side of things. Yeah, I mean, who knows. I do not know exactly what until I get out on a racetrack and feel this car out. I love change. Throw something different. Cocky drivers believe we’re better than everyone else, we’re going to adapt quicker than everyone else, and that’s what I believe.
Q. Denny, do you have any idea what the initial outlay will be as far as costs for next year? Is that a concern? When you look long-term, this should be more economically viable than the current car?
DENNY HAMLIN: There’s ultimately so many unknowns, that question is hard to answer. I think the simple answer is that generally you’re having less parts and pieces you’re going to be developing. Will you need to staff as many people as what you have currently? I don’t know that’s the case.
I think this car has a potential to be better in the long run. I think we looked at the model when we were thinking about starting a race team. This car was a factor in those decisions.
Ultimately we have a lot of territory that won’t be good any more, right? We have a lot of stuff, not only just cars, I’m talking equipment and tooling, devices that we use on our current car that won’t be good any more. It’s not just buying a new car. You’re buying a lot of different parts and pieces and tooling devices as well.
I just think it’s a lot of unknowns. I think for us personally, we budget on the safe side to say this car will probably be slightly more expensive for a couple years, then we kind of see what happens after that.
I think that crashes will play a bigger factor in your bottom line than what the current car does. Ultimately when you have parts and pieces when you crash, you’re manufacturing those pieces, that costs less than buying a piece off the shelf. It just is. You always can manufacture cheaper than you can buy retail.
I think what will be a bigger question mark will be where the sustainability of the teams will be. We’ll probably know that three quarters of the year into the first year, we’ll understand the economic model quite a bit better, have a better understanding where that model is in the future.
Ultimately right now, we are making a lot of assumptions.
Q. Denny, from an ownership point of view, is there concern parts are being provided by a single supplier? And David, so much talk about the future, what this car can mean, maybe this brings in another OEM, from your perspective why would you want another OEM in?
DENNY HAMLIN: From the parts and supply thing, I think that’s going to be a general concern all the way up until we get to Daytona. Once we get into on-track testing here in September, October, November, we hope that this car puts on a better racing product out on the racetrack. If we test and we find out we might need to tweak some things, now we’re in a really tight timeline to get all those parts and pieces to everyone before Daytona.
Single supplier, I think there’s a lot of different manufacturers of parts and pieces. I’m okay with single supplier. I think it makes it easier for everyone, especially if that supplier is right here in the home of NASCAR, a lot of the teams. They can deliver, they can have trackside services. That’s all a very viable thing.
Ultimately, the immediate concern and things that kind of keep you up at night is, Man, are we going to have enough parts and time? Once we get past the first part of the season, I think everyone will have a sigh of relief that we’re past the rush now, I think we’re going to be okay.
DAVID WILSON: Well, clearly there were a number of criteria that went into the definition of this car, the makeup of this car, what we wanted to achieve by putting this car on track.
One of them certainly is we need a car that’s going to service our industry for years and years and years to come. We can’t afford to do tear-ups every few years.
One of the other ones, we again talked about ad nauseam, is relevancy. Again, we’re a car company going car racing, so of course we want as much relevancy as possible.
Another one is about absolutely getting more competition. In the lead-up to this, I’ve talked a lot about I love that our car in many ways resembles a GT sports car. We help out Lexus on the sports car side. What we love most about that series is we race against eight other manufacturers. For Toyota, our whole philosophy is we compete on the showrooms with dozens of manufacturers. The more manufacturers that we can compete with on track, the better from our perspective.
I think the reality is the entry point with a car that we’ve been racing is just too steep to entice a new manufacturer. That’s just reality. We do believe that with Next Gen and the direction, the relevancy to an OEM, it’s a reset that there’s a much higher likelihood we could see another OEM or two.
Q. David, Denny just talked about we’re kind of like back to the ’80s, the cars look a lot more like the street versions. Back then it was watercooler talk all the time, This car has the advantage. Does this Next Gen car open up any of that or have you had to work so hard to look like your car but still fit in a certain box, there won’t be any of that?
DAVID WILSON: I talked about this onstage. We have this really special partnership with our design partner in Culty. It’s a very iterative process. They’re the ones that designed the production TRD Camry. They send their wish list, then we take that and build something, take it to the wind tunnel, tweak it here, send it back to them. We must have iterated on this car at least half a dozen different times to make sure we struck the right balance between obviously styling and performance.
Our job at TRD is to make sure we have a fast race car. So relative to Toyota and our TRD Camry, we’re very happy with the product. We spent just a countless number of hours. Everything on that car, the smallest little edge and feature, was intentional, is intentional.
But to your other comment about the watercooler talk, does a certain manufacturer have an edge over another, listen, we all again held hands and said, We want to race a Camry, guys want to race a Mustang. We went to work to set about establishing some parity.
I’ll say this. We cannot be naïve enough to think that we got it right the very first time. There’s going to be things that we’re probably going to need to address as an industry as we get this car on track. We need reps first. We need to give it into the hands of our drivers to mix it up and see what we got.
Again, what gives us confidence is the degree of engineering that went into it. I fielded a question the other day about, How do you know this is going to be any different than the Car of Tomorrow? My answer is, one of the principal differences is we didn’t have a collaboration between the OEMs and NASCAR back then. When we came in the sport, we were not a partner, we were not a stakeholder, we were a participant.
Today we’re a partner. This NASCAR is completely different than the one that existed when we came in the sport.
Q. Denny, what are your expectations? I asked Joey what he thought about it. The first thing he thought about was it was an opportunity, somebody has the opportunity to jump out ahead of the other guys quicker. What are you expecting when this thing hits the racetrack?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I agree with that sentiment. I think we’re still in the car racing business, in the competition business. We as drivers, the more things become similar on the racetrack, the more it comes in our hands to make the difference. We have to identify as drivers where can we be better, where do we need to up our game to be competitive.
I know enough to know what I don’t know. What I don’t know is aerodynamics, schematics, all that stuff of race cars. I understand my job as a race car driver is to give this team and Toyota all the information that I can early on to let them go out there and make adjustments to make my car faster. I think we have a lot of smart people within 23XI, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota to make this product a winning race car very soon.
Q. David, you were talking about your job is to make these cars race fast. Obviously the job of Toyota is to put cars in driveways. At any time day do you think this car is closer like it was back in the day to the old adage of win on Sunday, sell on Monday?
DAVID WILSON: I really do think that will be the case. As Denny was talking about earlier, there’s no mistake we’re racing a TRD Camry. I’m proud of the progress that the industry has taken towards that, even with Gen-6, so much better than what we’ve raced in the past.
This is a revolutionary, another revolutionary, step forward. I do believe the mom or dad driving this beast of a TRD Camry is going to take more pride in our success. That makes me feel good. That really does bring me a lot of pride. I talked about, again, the fact that it’s a TRD Camry, even closer aligns it to what we sell.
DENNY HAMLIN: The data backs that up, as well. When Toyota came into this sport, if you look at the NASCAR fan sentiment of Toyota and its brand, I don’t know that they were as welcoming to Toyota coming in, right?
DAVID WILSON: Polarizing.
DENNY HAMLIN: Right? Since then, they see how invested Toyota is in the sport that they love, NASCAR, that sentiment shows. It has dramatically changed. They’re more apt to, when they’re going to go buy a car, go to a Toyota dealership now than they ever were because they are welcoming of that brand in America on the racetrack.
DAVID WILSON: That’s a huge point, Denny. I’m glad you brought that up. When we came in, it was absolutely polarizing. Our biggest success is that over the years I think we’ve demonstrated that we’re going to be respectful to the sport, we demonstrated that we were going to earn our way. We struggled in the early days, as everyone remembers.
But as Denny pointed out, it’s not that we’re turning Chevrolet fans into Toyota fans, that’s not what it’s about. Even the Chevrolet and Ford fans, most of them will acknowledge their sport is better because Toyota is a part of it.
Again, as Denny pointed out, when it’s time for them to look at their next family sedan, the data is showing they’re walking into a Toyota dealership.
DENNY HAMLIN: That’s right.
Q. David, on the character lines of the Camry, when you started with a clean sheet of paper, you had the opportunity to put ‘stock’ back in stockcar, in addition to the character lines, what were some other things about the Camry that you wanted to make sure got into this particular car?
DAVID WILSON: Well, again, what we all saw today obviously was principally the body and the styling. We’ve talked about that.
One of the other things that were very important to Toyota, as well as our colleagues at Ford and Chevrolet, was more technological relevancy. Independent suspensions, independent rear, independent front, rack-and-pinion steering. There were some low-hanging fruit that we’ve been waiting for years and years and years to bring to the racetrack.
It took a lot of courage and commitment from the entire industry, all of the OEMs, to say, Okay, let’s do this one right, and let’s address all of these things that we’ve wanted to see on a NASCAR race car for years and years and years.
One of the most notable things, again, is that beautiful 18-inch forged aluminum wheel. I’m a wheel guy. When I get in my production car, the first thing I do is make sure it has the right shoes on it. That just makes the car look so good.
Q. Denny, I’m hoping to get your perspective as a team owner, trying to understand the fact that NASCAR is going to seven cars per team next year with Next Gen, what is the benefit from a cost perspective? Looking at a larger investment up front, cutting costs over time, can you explain where that’s coming from?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think teams will probably start out with a lesser number than that, to be honest with you. Before we would take all the cars we could. We had 15 cars, I think you could have per car number, and they were all specialized. We had road course, superspeedway, short track and intermediate track cars. They were all specialized and we would build the bodies according to what each car needed.
With this composite body, we’re not bending anything any more. The shape is the same. That shape will be the same at Talladega as it is at Watkins Glen.
From our perspective, I think in the beginning the teams probably will err on the side of lower inventory than just going out and saying, I need seven cars for car 20, seven cars for car 18, 11, so on. I think they’re liable to go smaller until they understand how much inventory they’re actually going to use, also again hedge their bet a little bit against change orders. What happens when we need to change something for safety reasons or competition reasons? You don’t want to waste that money.
I think having a lower inventory is good. I think if we raced all the same car with our current car, we could do it with seven. We don’t. We have specialized bodies for each individual track. This composite body doesn’t allow you to do that so you don’t need the 15 cars like you have currently or whatever it might be.
I think it just allows us to have a lower inventory. Certainly you’ll have to have a good inventory of parts and spare parts for crashes. Overall chassis, I think that’s probably a good, fair number.
THE MODERATOR: Denny and David, thanks so much for joining us today. We’re looking forward to seeing the new car on the track. Appreciate your time during this exciting day.
DAVID WILSON: Thank you.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you all for having us.