Lexus doesn’t exactly have an illustrious racing history, but that’s an important thing for a carmaker trying to reinvent itself as a maker of exciting performance cars. The “M” in “BMW M” stands for motorsport, after all.
As part of an ongoing struggle to vanquish its blasé image, Lexus is working to build the credibility of its “F” performance sub-brand, a counterpart to BMW M. In 2014, it launched the RC F coupe, and followed it with a GT3 racing version. That car will finally hit the track in the U.S. later this year. Auto executives used to say “win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” but will that work for Lexus?
The 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season got underway this past weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but Lexus sat that one out. Instead, its RC F GT3 will join the series for a “limited” 2016 schedule, ahead of a full-on campaign with multiple cars in 2017. Lexus says it needs to take things easy in 2016, since the car and team are new.
IMSA’s series is one of the most high profile road-racing series in the U.S., so it’s as good a stage as any for Lexus. The RC F will compete in the GT Daytona (GTD) class, one of two for production cars. While it may be the slower of the two classes, GTD includes some fierce competition in the form of Porsche 911s, Aston Martin Vantages, Dodge Vipers, Audi R8s, and Lamborghini Huracáns.
One look at the RC F GT3’s crazy bodywork and massive rear spoiler, and it’s apparent this car isn’t quite like the ones you can actually buy. It does use a version of the stock RC F’s 5.0-liter V8, tuned to over 500 horsepower and harnessed to a six-speed sequential gearbox. For 2016, the RC F GT3 will be piloted by five-time Daytona 24 Hours winner Scott Pruett, along with 20-year-old Sage Karam.
Lexus previously participated in the Rolex Sports Car Series, a predecessor to today’s IMSA series, supplying engines for purpose-built prototypes. It remains to be seen whether its return to racing will be successful, or whether anyone outside of racing’s admittedly small fan base will notice. But the sight of an RC F dicing with Porsches and Lamborghinis can’t hurt the Japanese luxury brand’s image.