Fast Lens: A behind-the-lens storytelling of the 2023 Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival

September 6, 2023

As a photographer in this field of motoring journalism, It’s pretty much given that I love shooting cars. Yes, my true passion is photography, most especially car photography. Whether moving or on a stand-still, classic or modern, as long as I deemed a car worthy of expending my time and effort, and my camera’s performance, I’d surely take photos of it to my heart’s content, regardless if I’m using my trusty DSLR or my smartphone.

However, there’s one aspect of car photography I really, really, truly love the most - motorsports photography. I’ve been a motorsports photographer for quite some time now, shooting racing events such as Formula V1, Radical Challenge Philippines, and Toyota Vios Cup.

But what started it all for me was during the early 2010s when the very beginner photographer me first attended a free-admission drifting event at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

If memory serves me right, the last motorsports-related event I saw there was around a decade ago before things moved on to bigger but farther places like Megatent in Quezon City, or the Clark International Speedway and the R33 Drift Track, both of which are in Pampanga where access, to me, is quite difficult.

That’s why it felt awesome and somewhat a déjà-vu when Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) decided to hold this year’s Gazoo Racing Festival (TGR Fest) at Quirino Grandstand. I spent no time psyching myself up for what could be the highest of highlights in my August 2023 motoring events calendar. And I wasn’t disappointed!

Man, this year’s August 23 and 24 were on fire with memories to cherish from in years to come.

In brief, the TGR Fest is TMP’s way of showcasing the Japanese brand’s continuously evolving motorsports side, the side I love about them the most. Each TGR Fest highlights TMP’s racing-inspired versions of their popular models under the GR-S badge, along with the GR Supra, GR86, and the GR Yaris.

For this year though, the TGR Fest took a slightly different but downright spectacular turn. That’s because TMP brought in no less than Toyota Global Chairman Akio Toyoda, who also goes by the alias “Morizo”, to steal the show with his daring skills behind the wheel.

Not only that, TMP also managed to slot in three of Toyota’s high-performance racing machines into the mix, making the 2-day event one for the books. These are the GR Yaris Development Car, the GR Yaris WRC challenger itself, and the Red Bull GR Corolla Japan Formula Drift Car. To a racing fan and lens man like me, seeing these in the metal and taking pictures/videos of these racing thoroughbreds is a priceless treat indeed.

Alright. Enough with the many words. Here are some of the photos and videos I took home from the highly-successful Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival.

Let’s go straight to the main highlight of the TGR Fest – Morizo-San. Aged in his late 60s right now, this gentleman holds no bars in taking the GR Yaris WRC up to speed. He is, after all, a racing driver. Outside of TGR Fest, the GR Yaris WRC reigns supreme in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship, and is driven by Toyota WRC Works team drivers; Kalle Rovanpera (Co-driver Jonne Haltunnen), Elfyn Evans (Co-driver Scott Martin), Sebastian Ogier (Co-driver Vincent Landais), and Takamoto Katsuta (Co-driver Aaron Johnston).

The above video flexes the Toyota GR Yaris Development Car, a machine the current generation GR Yaris is based on, and is the homologation car for team Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC. This was taken in the 2nd day. The 1st day had Morizo driving this thing. But for this time it was his fellow Japanese racing driver Katsuta Norihiko behind the wheel. This beast in the hands of a capable pilot is already a force not to be messed with.

Here’s my most favorite machine in the fleet – the Toyota Red Bull GR Corolla Japan Formula Drift Car, which is put through its paces by Japanese racing driver Sasaki Masahiro. This car, outside of the TGR Fest, competes in the Japan Formula Drift Championship, and is under the command of Finland’s rising star rally driver Kalle Rovanpera who, as earlier said, also competes in this year’s FIA WRC for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

Later on in the video, the GR Yaris WRC came darting out of the left field to take a piece of the action. Driven by Katsuta Norihiko, the two racing machines wowed everyone by doing tandem drifting and precision car control stunts.

Aside from these racecar demos and exciting driving showcase by Morizo, the TGR Fest also had other crowd-pleasing events that literally involved the crowd themselves. Most notable of which was the shotgun ride sessions wherein Morizo’s fellow Japanese racing drivers, as well as our local professional racers, treated a number of lucky spectators to a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the passenger seat of a spinning, sliding and drifting car. For these sessions, the GR86 and GR Supra became the stars of the show.

I was lucky to have experienced a shotgun ride with Sasaki-San onboard that blue GR Supra. Was expecting my car to be either the Yaris WRC or the GR Yaris Dev Car, but it wasn't meant to be, and it's alright. I was so thrilled upone climing into the car and strapping myself on the passenger seat. With the final checks done for saftey, off we went. Sasaki-San didn't hold back, taking the GR Supra through the gymkhana course.

It being a well-balanced car and a rear-wheel-drive meant that Sasaki-San can pull some wild turns and spin moves. The experience was visceral and left me with tummy butterflies, to say the least. Only thing I did't do was to take an onboard video. It was a once and a lifetime experience, and I didn't let any gadget get in my way of relishing that moment.

All in all, my 2023 experience of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival was a blast! This will surely leave me all pumped up for the forthcoming 2nd round of this year’s Toyota GR Vios Cup to be held on September 9 at the 4.2 km long Clark International Speedway. Thanks TMP for this awesome experience! 

About the Author

Randolph de Leon
Randy is a person with disability (PWD), a partially-blinded person with only his left eye functioning. Since childhood, the automobile has always been his passion, and is able to express it through photography and most recently, through writing as well. Outside the motoring beat, Randy spends time manning the media aspect of his business which he co-founded with his sister/college classmate. It's called Dragonlight Wellness and Solutions, a multi-business venture centering on improving peoples' lives through earning.