When we first caught wind that the 2016 Toyota Festival was to be held in the South Island, at the Highlands Motorsport Park in central Otago, we were excited to know that what we experienced last year at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, would be experienced by the South Island’s Toyota community. Held over March 18–20, more than 400 Toyota-mad southerners made the trip to take part in the festival, whether it be for the circuit racing, show and shine, the off-road experience, or a combination of the lot. 

Not only were the festivalgoers treated to more track time than ever over the two-day event, experienced race car drivers held classroom sessions, teaching their wealth of knowledge to the dedicated enthusiasts. On-track tips, racing lines, and off-track prep — all taught to give everyone the best experience possible. It worked, too — impressive improvements could be seen from most drivers throughout the event. 

When we say show and shine, you think chrome, flashy paint, and gauges galore — but not at a Toyota festival. Factory paint, steel wheels, and immaculate interior were favoured features there. There was plenty to choose from, too, but festival judges decided on a completely original Toyota AE86, owned by Trish Campbell. The judges said, “To see an original, unmodified AE86 in the flesh, and driven on the road, was outstanding. This car should be in a museum.”

On track, there were numerous potent racing machines doing battle, however this old-school rear-wheel drive Toyota Starlet was truly a standout. Built from scratch, the owner has gone to town on this ’80s economy vehicle, which now features a highly strung 4AGE Atlantic engine. The noise produced by this high-horsepower NA engine was breathtaking — a true flashback to a golden era of racing that will forever be embedded into Toyota’s prevalent and dominant motorsport history. 

You like things a bit higher off the ground? You prefer that ground to be broken up stone, soft ground, and mud? Ah yes, you’re a 4x4 Toyota fan. Thankfully, Highlands Motorsport Park hosted a spectacular 4x4 experience that not only took enthusiasts on the journey of a lifetime, but taught them valuable skills about off-roading, similar to the training that the circuit racers received.

A hugely successful event, we think we might rangle a few ’Yotas together next year and take part in the action and learnings on offer! 

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.