But this NASA has no plans for going to space.
The number 86 holds a very special meaning for Toyota and its fans. Historically, it's adorned the tailgates of some of the best-handling and most fun driver's cars the Japanese automaker has ever produced, and with the arrival of the new Toyota GR 86, new opportunities are opening up for Toyota.
The GR 86, which has already seen its fair share of track time, has been named the official pace car for NASA. No, not the space agency, but rather the National Auto Sport Association Championship Races in Daytona. The first race will take place this Thursday, September 16. The red, white, and black-liveried GR 86 will lead all of the classes - in excess of 25 of them - and close to 400 competitors. The circuit in question is none other than Daytona International Speedway, the 3.81-mile road racing circuit famous for hosting the 24 Hours of Daytona.
This isn't the first time Toyota and NASA have partnered. In 2019, GR Supra owners were given a one-year NASA membership and a free track day training session. The initiative was continued this year with all GR models eligible.
Michael Tripp, vice president of Toyota Vehicle Marketing and Communications says, "We are thrilled to have the new GR 86 selected as the official pace car of NASA's National Championships," before extolling on why the GR86 is the right car for the job. "This car is perfectly at home on a road course, and it will be great to see it lead all the classes out onto the track."
The NASA Championships feature two qualifying races. Competitors earn points that determine their grid positions for the final race. Spec classes require cars to run on mostly stock gear with similar tires while various modified classes allow more leeway.
"It's really an honor to have Toyota step up with the GR 86 as the pace car of our marquee championship event. I can't think of a more perfect car for this, and I know a ton of our competitors will be eyeing it for their next street or track car!" said Jeremey Croiset, VP of NASA.
The new GR 86 features a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine producing 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and should prove to be a fun track toy. In our first drive of the GR 86, we praised the extra power and torque, but also the retention of the sports car's fun-to-drive nature, particularly in base spec.
The 2021 NASA Championships will run from September 16-19.