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TRS 2017: To Challenge the Best

The Toyota Racing Series continues to attract the best young races from around the world, and in five rounds in summer 2107 they will race against New Zealand's best.

Recent championship ‘graduates’ have gone on to star in their 2016 northern racing campaigns, and their word of mouth – together with the television coverage that screens in 40 or more countries – will ensure that this home-grown premier-level championship is first choice for many young racers looking to escape the gloom and frustrating weather of a northern winter.

Drivers who commit to the five weeks and 15 races of TRS 2017 will complete up to 3,000 kilometres of testing, qualifying and close-quarters racing in modern singleseater race cars run by professional teams on some of the most challenging circuits in Australasia.

They will race for the chance to have their names inscribed on some of the most storied trophies in New Zealand motor racing, joining names like Stirling Moss, Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Keke Rosberg, and Chris Amon.

A grid of 20 FT50 race cars will include several famous names from international motor racing along with returning racers and first-timers fresh out of karting or junior race codes. Many of them have already been noticed by talent spotters working for leading teams. For others, this will be their chance to shine.

Every driver will be looking to answer the question: who will be the next Toyota Racing Series (TRS) champion? Leading internationals who were first to commit set the tone: Pedro Piquet has been racing Formula Three in Europe and is coming back to further hone his skills for 2017; and defending 2016 TRS champion Lando Norris is coming back to throw down a challenge to all who might seek the title.

The first two New Zealand drivers to commit, Taylor Cockerton of Pukekohe and Marcus Armstrong of Christchurch, are expected to be joined by James Munro and Brendon Leitch; at the time of writing they were busy finalising their plans.

Global oil brand Castrol has now become the naming-rights sponsor of TRS and its high performance products will be used in both TRS and the Toyota 86 championship.

The championship will also be covered on television in New Zealand and more than 40 nations worldwide. Coverage will run on a one-week delay right through the five weeks of the championship, with the action from the New Zealand Grand Prix on screen a week after the event.

GRADUATES MAKE THEIR MARK

The mission of TRS is to create a pathway for the race stars of the future and to help New Zealand drivers gain experience in professional teams. In past seasons, drivers who have raced TRS have gone on to win titles in top Northern Hemisphere categories including GP3 and are now racing at the highest level around the world.

The 2016 competition year has raised the benchmark for ‘graduate’ success, with 2015 TRS champion Lance Stroll (17) scoring an emphatic FIA European Formula Three title and 2016 TRS champion Lando Norris (16) winning the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and NEC titles in dominant fashion.

Racing with the same team as Lance Stroll, Kiwi Nick Cassidy has had a strong year running inside the top three in the championship title race, which has one round remaining at the time of writing. He has divided his year between Formula Three in Europe and racing with the factory TOM’s Lexus team in Japan’s Super GT 500 series.

TRS graduates Alex Lynn, Jordan King, Mitch Evans, Artem Markelov and Raffaele Marciello all fought hard for top placings in GP2, and Daniil Kvyat continues in Formula One with Torro Rosso as our first TRS driver to step up.

As his Formula Three campaign progressed, Lance Stroll also fulfilled the criteria for a Super Licence, making him eligible to race in Formula One. Stroll has strong links with the Williams F1 team and is likely to step up to take a race seat alongside Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas.

Kiwi Mitch Evans, meanwhile, has recently signed to race in 2017 for Jaguar’s new Formula E series team. In the FIA World Endurance Championship Brendon Hartley – our first ever race winner – was once more in the thick of the action, partnering Porsche team-mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard to a string of victories.

2017 Castrol Toyota Racing Series Dates

Round 1
11 - 15 January
Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna, Christchurch, Lady Wigram Trophy.
TRS lap record: 1:17.062
Driver: Lando Norris, January 2016 

Round 2
19 - 22 January
Teretonga Park, Invercargill, Spirit of a Nation.
TRS lap record: 53.109
Driver: Lance Stroll, January 2015

Round 3
26 – 29 January
Hampton Downs, New Zealand, Motor Cup.
TRS Lap Record: 1:00.154
Driver: Arjun Maini, January 2016

Round 4
2 - 5 February
Taupo Motorsport Park, Taupo, Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy.
TRS Lap Record: 1:23.357
Driver: Jehan Daruvala, February 2016

Round 5
9 - 12 February 2017
Manfield, Feilding, New Zealand Grand Prix (along with the Dan Higgins Trophy and Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup).
TRS Lap Record: 1:02.853
Driver: Brandon Maisano, February 2015.

TAYLOR JUMPS THE QUEUE

University of Waikato student Taylor Cockerton was the first to enter the 2017 championship, confirming his intentions as far back as July. The 2014/15 New Zealand Formula Ford champion will compete for the second time in TRS and is looking to improve on his stellar debut in 2016.

“It’s fantastic to be able to confirm our commitment to the 2017 series. Being able to confirm sponsors and budget so early means we can focus on strategy and testing.”

The 19-year-old will once again have the backing of Christchurch’s Andy Neale, who engineered Cockerton’s New Zealand Formula Ford title win. Neale has worked in Formula One and comes with extensive TRS experience, having worked with a number of drivers and won the 2014 series with Singaporean driver Andrew Tang.

In the 2016 championship Cockerton finished ninth overall and third rookie. His best result was a fifth place in the second race at the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Manfeild, Feilding.

“I certainly learned last season the importance of being consistent and scoring points. I was up against a number of drivers with better pace who failed to finish races. And ended up behind me.”

Cockerton says the experience of that first season was “priceless”.

“It was a big step up for me, particularly in competitiveness. The international field had European drivers with top experience and a higher level of aggression in both passing and defending, so I learnt a lot of technique in a very short space of time.”

Cockerton will run with the newly formed MTEC Team, previously known as ETEC.

MARCUS ON A MISSION

He has done the hard yards in karting, battling some of the fastest European and South American drivers in the top KZ class.

All year, Marcus Armstrong (16) has raced world championships and European championships. The next step for this talented youngster is to make the move all serious racers must make: up into full-sized single-seater categories.

Two successful one-off forays in late 2016 were designed to season the young racer and give him a chance to adjust to racing single-seaters with full aerodynamic packages. He had tested single-seaters at a number of European circuits, but testing never offers the deeper insights of racing. His encouraging results have propelled Marcus solidly into this new phase and he has confirmed an entry in the 2017 TRS.

“I’m very keen to race TRS after some great experience in Europe and of course in past seasons in the Toyota Finance 86 Championship here in New Zealand. I’m looking forward to racing against the fast Europeans who travel down here and against a good strong group of Kiwi drivers,” he says.

Given the increasing profile of TRS in the Northern Hemisphere, and the success of drivers who have raced TRS, Armstrong is looking forward to a fiercely competitive season of racing. There’s every possibility that he will meet key rivals from his European karting campaigns.

Like the drivers who travel here every year from other countries, Armstrong knows TRS offers intense racing in a very compressed timeframe during the northern winter when weather closes many circuits. The championship is fought out over five consecutive weekends and 15 races, with a feature race at every round.

Armstrong is keenly aware of the need to race hard and be consistent in all 15 races. The prospect of competing with professional teams in modern single-seater cars has strong appeal as he sets his sights on the next step in his motor racing career.

TOYOTA’S 86 CHAMPIONSHIP ACCELERATES

Building on record entries in 2015-2016, the Toyota 86 Championship has once more surged forward, breaking its own entry records at the opening round and putting on a spectacular show for a 120,000-strong crowd at the V8 Supercars in November.

The championship has attracted a high number of racers who have competed in contested previous seasons, and a strong presence of fresh talent has added further heat to the grid.

Buoyed by the announcement of the richest prize purse in modern motor racing history, the championship is becoming a major feature on the local motorsport scene, and like the Toyota Racing Series (TRS) is now propelling its ‘graduates' into new racing challenges and accomplishments.

This month, Michael Scott (fourth in the 2015-2016 championship) was heading to California to compete in the $200,000 shootout event for a drive in the Mazda Road to Indy series. He is also competing in the 2016-2017 Toyota 86 Championship. Also returning to the championship is his teammate, Ryan Yardley, who is contesting the title for the CareVets racing team.

There is growing interest in the championship from Australia. Drivers Bruce Thomlinson and Jaxon Evans (both ex-pat Kiwis now living in Australia) have competed in the New Zealand championship, and now Australians competing in their domestic 86 Pro-Am championship and the CAMS Formula Four series are looking closely at ‘crossing the ditch’ to race here.

They are drawn by the close nature of the competition and also by the announcement of a $100,000 prize purse for the coming season.

Ash Blewett, winner of the 2015-2016 championship, raced at Bathurst in the 86 Pro-Am, giving Australian drivers a chance to gauge the speed needed to run in New Zealand.

The drive was part of his prize for winning the championship. Blewett was also recently given a chance to test an FT50 TRS single-seater, an experience he rates as “incredible”.

The 2016-2017 Toyota 86 Championship is contested over six rounds. The first round at the V8 Supercars at Pukekohe and the second round at Taupō are already complete, putting the championship hopefuls on the road after Christmas to round three at the Ruapuna circuit near Christchurch. There, and in the following round the next weekend at Teretonga Park near Invercargill, they will share the race programme with the young stars of the TRS.

After a fortnight’s break, the fifth round will take the championship alongside TRS once more for the Grand Prix weekend at Manfeild, Feilding.

The sixth and final round will return the championship to Hampton Downs in north Waikato. All six rounds and 18 races are televised, with images and information at www.toyotaracing.co.nz

2016 TOYOTA 86 CHAMPIONSHIP

Round 1
4 – 6 November 2016
Pukekohe Park Raceway, Pukekohe.
Toyota 86 lap record:
Driver: Ash Blewett
Time: 1.14.970
November 2015*

Round 2
9 – 11 December 2016
Taupo Motorsport Park, Taupo
Toyota 86 lap record:
Driver: Ash Blewett
Time: 1:42.258
September 2014

Round 3
13 - 15 January 2017
Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna, Christchurch.
Toyota 86 lap record:
Driver: Tom Alexander
Time: 1:36.654
January 2015

Round 4
20 - 22 January 2017
Teretonga Park, Invercargill
Toyota 86 lap record:
Driver: Nick Cassidy
Time: 1:07.148
January 2015

Round 5
10 – 12 February 2017, Manfeild, Feilding
Toyota 86 lap record:
Driver: Tom Alexander
Time: 1:17.279
February 2015

Round 6
10 – 12 March 2017
Hampton Downs
Toyota 86 lap record:
Driver: Tom Alexander
Time: 1:14.210
May 2014

*Note this lap record may have been broken at the 2016 opening round.

Please check www.toyotaracing.co.nz for up-to-date information

UNPRECEDENTED RESPONSE TO CAREVETS SCHOLARSHIP

Christchurch driver Jack Milligan is preparing himself for the 2016-2017 Toyota 86 Championship after winning a largely funded drive as part of the two-car CareVetsRacing team.

No fewer than 17 drivers applied for the 2016-2017 CareVets Racing Scholarship, a response that scholarship convenor Keith Houston says was “unprecedented”. Houston, Toyota 86 Championship category manager Geoff Short and Kiwi motorsport legend Greg Murphy were the scholarship judges. They pre-selected 12 candidates to attend a one-day judging event at Hampton Downs in September.

Applicants were subjected to a series of on-track and off-track evaluations, including fitness tests, a track run, a comprehensive judging panel interview, and mentored and solo laps of the 2.81 kilometre international circuit.

Winning the scholarship drive, Milligan said, was a “huge boost” – and something of a surprise.

“This is fantastic. I’ve worked very hard to get to this point, and I was up against some really good drivers here. I couldn’t say I was sure of winning until Keith announced it. I’m very grateful for the help and support I’ve received and really looking forward to the championship,” he said.

Track sessions with judge and driver mentor Greg Murphy, he added, offered the group valuable insights into their driving style and race craft.

“Murph was great, he pointed out areas where we needed to improve and really helped us all with getting the best out of the car.”

Jack Milligan raced karts from 2011 to 2013 and most recently has been a leading competitor in the ‘Pro7’ RX7 Series, finishing second overall in 2015-2016.

Houston says the CareVet Scholarship places Milligan alongside 2015-2016 scholarship co-winner and championship rookie title holder Ryan Yardley. Both Milligan and Yardley are from Christchurch.