YORK TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Toyota Racing Development’s presence runs deep in Detroit.
And prior to action at Michigan International Speedway this weekend, drivers Erik Jones, Noah Gragson and Todd Gilliland had a chance to see just how deep when they toured Toyota Motor North America Research & Development on Thursday.
Spanning 700 acres with 1,718 employees, the R&D facility is home to Toyota’s North American technical center, focusing on engineering design, engine unit design, prototype development, vehicle evaluation and more. Well before Toyotas hit the street and the race track, the first steps of exploration, development and testing are taken a little over 40 miles outside of the Motor City.
The drivers toured the 180,000 square foot Safety Test Facility and saw presentations by high-ranking Toyota officials about various projects and technologies related to the sport. The best part? At least for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Jones, it was when he pressed the button in the crash-testing room that launched a Toyota Highlander into a barrier at roughly 30 mph.
“The coolest part for me is the crash test,” said Jones, driver of the No. 20 Toyota in the Monster Energy Series. “The automotive world, as much as we’re connected to it, we don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff more than once or twice a year. It’s cool to see the projects they have coming down the pipeline.”
For Gilliland, the vastness of the facility was something he wasn’t fully aware of prior to visiting the facility.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Toyota headquarters in Plano, Texas, so to see all of the development that goes on up here that goes all over the world is pretty cool,” Gilliland said.
He added one small request: “Hopefully we can build some more stuff to make our race cars go fast.”