By on May 12, 2015

TRD Camry XSE Pace Car

Over its long and illustrious sales career, the Toyota Camry has been described in many ways by so-called automotive enthusiasts. Most of them, to be honest, haven’t been particularly flattering. Words like “appliance” tend to find themselves in close proximity to the Camry whenever it’s been discussed elsewhere.

But this is The Truth About Cars, dammit!, and we have never been ones to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid on any car. Our own Jack Baruth has proven time and time again that the Camry, particularly in SE trim, is a capable and dynamic car at the track. I have personally piloted a Camry SE around Nelson Ledges. While it wasn’t quite keeping the pace of my Boss 302, it was no slouch, either.

That’s all fine and good. But what about putting it in a real race, with a real professional driver? How would it do under those circumstances?

Well, the fine folks at Toyota Production Engineering got as close to that as they possibly could by running a four-cylinder Camry SE in the One Lap of America last week. That’s right. They really ran a bone-stock, off-the-lot Camry in a time trial. The story of how they got there is just as interesting as the decision to drive the Camry itself.

Toyota Production Engineering team members have participated in the 24 Hours of LeMons series since 2008, highlighted by an overall win at Gingerman Raceway in 2011. This year, they made the decision to expand their racing efforts to other motorsports activities and, with full Toyota support, they decided to enter One Lap of America. Leading the effort for Toyota was Anthony Magagnoli, a young man whom I’ve gotten to know as a competitor and a fine driver in the American Endurance Racing series.

Anthony has a great resume as a driver: he won his class in the 2010 OLOA, finishing fourth overall and winning the Rookie of the Year award. He’s also a SpecE30 National Champion. Most importantly, he’s an engineer at Toyota’s Northern American Manufacturing headquarters. Providing support to Anthony, who would be doing all of the track driving, was Stephen Byington, another Toyota production engineer who’s an experienced crew member for open wheel and drag racing teams. Clearly, they had half of the equation required for winning. Now, they just needed a car. They settled on a favorite of many TTAC readers, the Scion FR-S, (What? What about the CAMRY? Patience, grasshoppers.)

One Lap of America TRD Scion FR-S

Anthony reached out to Toyota Racing Development to help with the FR-S build. The TRD Scion FR-S Project Car was built as the inspiration to the Release Series 1.0. The project car included a GReddy turbocharger, lower compression pistons, stronger rods, TRD coilovers and larger brakes and safety equipment upgrades.

Here’s what the TRD FR-S looked and sounded like at High Plains Raceway (OMG, dat blow off valve):

Over twenty engineers and co-ops from Toyota Production Engineering worked on the FR-S, which they only obtained roughly three weeks before the beginning of the event. They entered the SS GT2 Small Bore category for sports coupes under $50,000 MSRP and under 3.5L engine displacement. And they were competitive from the start, battling back and forth for the class lead in SS GT2 SB with a 600hp BMW 1M.

When the team arrived at Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, TX on Wednesday May 6th, they were sitting 8th overall and 10 points away from the lead in class. However, after 2 strong morning runs, they suffered terminal engine seizure in the afternoon session, attributed to failure of aftermarket crankshaft bearings.

I spoke with Magagnoli by phone recently and he had this to say about the decision to continue on:

“We knew that we didn’t want to drop out – we knew that we wanted to be there for the end. We had a few options, one of which was our press support vehicle, a Camry XSE. However, in the end, we opted to get a Camry SE four-cylinder and compete as an exhibition entry in the stock sedan class.”

That’s pretty bad ass. Seriously.

So how did the Camry do on track?

Magagnoli was impressed. “The Camry dealt with the rigors of the track easily soaking up curbs and adjusting its direction in accordance to just minor adjustments of the throttle. The paddle shifters made gear selection a breeze and the car hit a peak of 102.9 mph, with a single best lap time of 2:46.4 on the Grand Course at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park. The cumulative lap time for the 3 laps of 8:30.111 in the first session was good for 35th out of the 48 cars that ran in the morning! In the afternoon, our time dropped to 8:23.343, good for 37th out of 45. Our stock 2015 Camry SE 4-cylinder posted times faster than a Porsche 944, MINI Cooper GP, Cadillac CTS-V wagon, supercharged Acura NSX, and a Porsche Carrera GT.”

Yeah, yeah, that’s all good – but let’s watch the VIDEO:

Obviously, the Camry is a little prone to understeer. It could also benefit from some better tires. And WTF is that Ford LTD wagon doing out there? But other than that, it looks pretty damned capable on what is considered to be a rather challenging course, hitting a maximum speed of over 100 MPH. And it beat a freaking Carrera GT! You can even quote me on that.

“The Camry SE is a superior track car to the Carrera GT.” –Bark M., not a former Porsche Employee

So the next time that one of your know-it-all friends who considers himself a “real racer” because he once did an HPDE 1 session in his BMW E46 says your Camry SE is an “appliance,” just make this simple statement to him: There’s only one way to settle this. A race. And if you’re a real driver, like Anthony Magagnoli, you’ll probably win.

All photos and video are courtesy of Toyota Production Engineering. You can read more about Toyota Productions Engineering’s race team at, or at their Facebook page at You can also see more videos of the TRD FR-S in action at their YouTube page.

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16 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: This Is Not The One Lap of America FR-S, Per SE...”

  • avatar

    My BRZ has humbled many a Porsche, M3, or Corvette. And of course I’ve been humbled by the occasional Miata.

    The lesson is that, among amateurs on the track, it’s a lot more about the driver than the car.

    But that said, I’d readily swap my BRZ for that TRD FRS

    • 0 avatar

      For sure. This is what makes track days fun. I passed a Maserati once due to the nut behind the wheel being a bit loose. I’ve also been passed by a Ford Focus. There is a wide range of skills out there.

  • avatar

    >>The lesson is that, among amateurs on the track, it’s a lot more about the driver than the car.

    Exactly. I rented a Camry SE from Enterprise last summer and it was underwhelming – meaning it lived down to rental expectations. But a track experienced driver could take the Camry and eclipse a less experienced driver in a better vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      No, partially. If you read Jack’s review cited by Bark, he explicitly cites attributes of the car’s steering and cornering behavior that he feels allowed it to perform well on the track. Attributes of the machine, not just the driver. In a follow up article he specifically writes that he prefers the Camry SE to the Altima, Accord, and even Mazda6 in a racetrack setting.

  • avatar

    The right driver makes all the difference and the Camry can be fun if you make it out to be. 3S-GTE swaps and such in an older Camry are on the future project list.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      The people from GRM made a project out of a V6 one. Dunno about their results.

      Why not swap a modern N/A engine instead? My “bucket list” includes a current Camry 4 banger into a ST84 Celica swap. The turbo is cool, but the modern engine does similar power and will be likely more efficient.

  • avatar

    “And WTF is that Ford LTD wagon doing out there?”

    Panther love FTW.

  • avatar

    OMG! Who was piloting that Cadillac CTS-V wagon? Melody Lee or Johan, himself?


  • avatar

    ” they suffered terminal engine seizure in the afternoon session, attributed to failure of aftermarket crankshaft bearings.”

    Every time I’ve seen or heard of a modified turbo charged engines lose its engine bearings its do to detonation. The load in the wrong direction crushes the bearings down and eventually they spin. I’m biased having driven for Crawford Performance but their turbo kit seems to be the one making the most power and making it reliably.

  • avatar

    I’m curious as to why they didn’t run the Camry XSE. We’ve heard a lot about how the 4 cylinder SE does on the racetrack, but wouldn’t the XSE perform better?

  • avatar

    It’s weird watching a track video where the only sound happens when the wheel is turned, even slightly. I call breakthrough in the hotly non-competed audible steering angle sensor technology race.

  • avatar

    I gotta say, the 2015s are really growing on me, aesthetically speaking. Somehow the gaping maw seems less and less offensive, and that c pillar trim bothers me less than when I first saw it. They fixed the interior too compared to the 2012 (creaky lower dash with large panel gaps, cheap HVAC knobs). Getting away from that ‘grounded to the ground’ angular look with the bangle-esque taillights did the car a world of good (IMO).

    This will probably be the last midsizer with a traditional 6spd automatic and port injected, naturally aspirated 4 cylinder (or 6 cylinder). No start stop nonsense, no direct injection related headaches, no CVT worries. The base 2.5L Fusion and Accord V6 are the only two other midsizers that offer the same combination of ‘old school’ tech.

    • 0 avatar

      I confess I used to espouse the litany that the Camry as a “soulless applicance”. I vowed never to give in and follow the masses to my nearest Toyota dealer under the hypnotic spell of America’s best selling car. I swore I would sooner drive a CUV rather than give in! Give me my manual tranny! I require a car with personality and character damnit! I must express my individuality and uniqueness through my automotive purchasing decision.
      Oh the lies we tell ourselves. Do we do it for some false sense of superiority to those that think differently? Or are we so determined to come to our own conclusions we convince ourselves of something other than the truth? I don’t know the answer to that but I now know this. I was totally wrong about the Camry. I know because I was forced to drive one while my car is in the body shop. And I think I’m in love.
      Let’s start with the term most used to describe by the car snob, appliance. Well what is an appliance? Surely it’s more than just a stove or toaster. (Although Tricia Helfer was toaster for five seasons of Battlestar Galactica, so appliances aren’t all bad.) Well let’s look. According to Herr Webster an appliance is “a device or piece of equipment designed to perform a specific task, typically a domestic one.” Well that let’s the Camry, or any other car off the hook right there. Because I’m here to tell you it does a lot more than one thing well. The engine is smooth and efficient. The 6-speed transmission shifts flawlessly. The seats are comfortable. The A/C is one of the best I’ve encountered in years. The suspension is well sorted, quiet and smooth on the highway and just tight enough in turns.(Better tires needed though.) Entune is easy to use yet more functional than many other infotainment systems. I was able to figure out every setting and option without a manual or resorting to Google. The trunk is more than large enough. The back up camera is clear with a good display. Even my kids love it. Of course I’m torturing them by driving an Elantra GT at the moment, so anything is better by comparison.
      I’ve become a complete and total convert. The Camry does so many things well and at a few things it excels. More importantly it’s not bad at anything. Not. one. single. thing. And it does it for a ridiculously low entry price.
      I get it now. I understand why 400,000 of these are sold every year. Now that I’ve stopped repeating a lie and experienced the truth. Who knew my red pill would come in the form of a gold colored Hertz rental?
      As soon as my Elantra GT is out of the shop it goes up for sale. Anyone want a manual hatchback with one of the worst rear suspension set ups of all time?

      • 0 avatar

        Hear hear. My gf’s 2012 SE has been great for the past 40k miles. Smooth and utterly competent, and I think it was $20k out the door. I much prefer the naturally aspirated 2.5L I4 combined with the frankly brilliantly calibrated 6spd auto to the 1.6 ecoboost Fusion I had as a rental last year. Camry had quieter, more effortless acceleration, with less NVH, and totally trounced the ecoboost on real MPG. I’ll seriously look at these refreshed models should I decide to replace my current commuter. I’d be happy with a steel-wheeled LE and the cushier ride and lower price tag, although that’s not to say the SE’s ride qualifies as harsh or unpleasant to live with on a daily basis.

      • 0 avatar

        Confession is good for the soul. I feel that way about Toyota in General. After getting the shaft from GM with a couple mid-sized SUVs (Vue and Bravada) I bought an old 4Runner with 200k miles. Never say never but doubt I will ever go back. Camry or Prius will be our next DD.

        I want to throw rocks every time an all knowing fanboi says Toyota has no soul. I didn’t buy a car to pray, I bought it for transportation and they seem to hit the mark middle of target every time.

  • avatar
    John R

    It’s hysterical how much pace a V6 SE can have on a straight, open freeway.

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