For most people, the thought of a soccer mom minivan being fast, flashy, and loud is pretty laughable. But as our article on six insanely modified minivans illustrates, these machines can have merit, and with the right performance upgrades, some serious weight reduction, and one badass driver, anything is possible.
It’s a nutty notion, especially since it goes against everything the Toyota Sienna was designed to do in suburban sprawls and strip malls across America. But the SE version of the van has quietly grown sportier in recent years, and under the watchful eye of chief engineer Andy Lund, the eight-seater has evolved into something that borders on being a blast to drive.
I recently spent a week on the road with Lund and his vans (as well as the team that makes them so swift), where I was able to witness the trials and tribulations of racing something that was never designed to spend time on a track. Win or lose, Lund and the Toyota team were determined to test and showcase what the Sienna could do, which they did with great gusto. This van is a stiff middle finger to the notion that only sports cars haul ass, and completely smashes the stigma that all minivans are boring.
When Lund finally got Toyota to give in to his request for a track-prepped Sienna, famed Scion tuner DG-Spec was tapped to handle the building and care of what’s become commonly referred to as the “R-Tuned” Sienna. The entire van was gutted, caged, and outfitted with adjustable race suspension before receiving an intake/exhaust combo. After that came a few key upgrades, like a one-off Kaminari carbon hood and some lightweight 18×10 Enkei RPF1 wheels that had been wrapped in sticky Bridgestone rubber.
But outside of those updates along with an OS Giken differential, a set of racing brake pads, some race seats and harnesses, Motul fluids, a sprinkling of interior upgrades, and graphics that would make Darth Vader smile, this van is pretty damn close to being stock. The drivetrain remains untouched, and things like glass windows, air conditioning, and the center stack still are present in order to help make the drive from one track to the next tolerable. This was basically a giant R&D session that doubled as a major publicity push for what Toyota likes to call the “Swagger Wagon.”
But putting a lumbering minivan up against 800-horsepower Nissan Skyline GTRs and track-prepped Ariel Atoms still left the automaker at a strong disadvantage, so Toyota enlisted a secret weapon to level the playing field. Enter Grand-Am Rolex Series champion, seasoned instructor, and all around badass Craig Stanton. With a pro driver behind the wheel and almost 70 competitors in front of them, the black sheep of this year’s One Lap of America quickly got to work eating up the competition. Here are 10 cars that Stanton and his Swagger Wagon spanked, as Toyota reshapes our view of what a minivan can do.
1. 2013 Dodge Viper GTS
Rocking an 8.4-liter V10 that churns out 640 horsepower and 600 foot pounds of torque, this American take on brute force was overpowered by the R-Tuned Sienna in the corners and struggled for traction in the wet. Meanwhile, the Sienna’s Bridgestone tires loved the rain, allowing the minivan to get a hefty jump on most of the competition during the first half of the seven-day race.
2. 2015 Corvette Z06
Rocking over double the horsepower and costing about twice as much, this 650-horsepower slice of Americana was no match for Stanton’s driving skills. While it may have looked (and sounded) good going around various tracks, the only advantage this car ever had on the Sienna was a great view of Stanton’s rear bumper.
3. 2006 Roush 427R Trak Pak Mustang
As we trekked across America, Stanton began to zero in on Ford’s very limited “Roush Trak Pak,” which came from the factory with adjustable suspension, bigger brakes, and an engine that generated 435 horsepower, and 400 foot-pounds of torque. But these OEM bolt-ons didn’t deter Stanton, who chewed up the pony car like a stale saltine before spitting it out on the pavement.
4. 2013 Nissan GTR
This beast was well ahead of Stanton and was a real contender for this year’s One Lap crown up until a turbo died up at Road America. Yes, even Godzilla has been known to fall, and while there were a few other Skylines that spanked the Sienna in the end, the reliability of the van’s stock drivetrain was reassuring to the entire Toyota team.
5. 2012 BMW 335i
Small, swift, and oh-so track happy, the 335i is an outstanding turbocharged German six-cylinder sport sedan. While at first glance one would think that the Bimmer would absolutely own the Sienna, in reality the R-Tuned Sienna was more of a handful than previously expected, and the BMW fell to team Toyota as the week progressed.
6. 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
This one should have been a wash, with the Porsche subduing the Sienna right from the start. But those wet conditions didn’t fare well for the German sport machine, and despite its 475-horsepower advantage, lower stance, and superior brakes, the Porsche was owned by the larger vehicle after just a few races.
7. 2004 Cadillac CTS-V
This 400-horsepower sleeper might have ruffled a few feathers in a drag race, but on the road course sections of One Lap it quickly fell behind, undoubtedly due in part to its nearly 2-ton weight.
8. 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG
Now this is a great way to travel cross country. Large and luxurious, the 6.2-liter V8 in this monster delivers 507 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque — all of which was negated by the stock suspension setup on the car. With its stiffer springs and sharper turn-in capabilities, the Sienna blasted by this beast in no time.
9. 1998 BMW M3
It may be lightweight and iconic, but this M3 was no match for Stanton’s seasoned racing skills and ability to overcome any obstacle in his way, even if that issue might be piloting an under-powered, overweight minivan.
10. 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder
The final machine to fall beneath the heavy handed R-Tuned Sienna was none other than the $850,000 Porsche 918 Spyder. Spitting almost 900 horsepower from its gnarly 4.6-liter V8, and offering more sex appeal than any other car in attendance, this rolling sculpture surprisingly wound up on the loser’s list. Some said that the driver didn’t want to go all out and risk damaging his investment, which is counter-intuitive considering that putting it all on the line is mandatory if you really want to compete in Brock Yates’ One Lap of America.