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Three aspiring Kiwi race drivers entered the 2016 Toyota Racing Series (TRS): Taylor Cockerton, Brendon Leitch and James Munro. Competing against 17 international drivers in 15 races over five weeks, they were in their FT50 race cars for upwards of 3,000 kilometres.
Between them they scored a race win, six podium finishes and two fastest laps. The trio applied for and were successful in securing support from the Kiwi Driver Fund, a now driver-focused initiative backed by Post Haste Couriers and Michelin that supports Kiwis on their way to the top who want to race in the series. Three of the four teams in the championship ran New Zealanders in their driver line-ups: ETEC Motorsport, Giles Motor Racing and Victory Motor Racing.
18 years old, Pukekohe,
Making his rookie debut in TRS this year, Taylor says he has learned an enormous amount about racecraft and the skills needed to race in a premier single-seater category – things he says he could not have learned elsewhere. His aim in this rookie year was to learn the series and gain experience in a wings-and-slicks race car on the five circuits used by TRS. The 2015 New Zealand Formula Ford champion, he considered his options
carefully, testing in Australia’s new Formula 4 and racing Formula Ford there as well. In the end the choice was clear: only TRS would expose him to such a wealth of driving talent in modern composite-bodied singleseaters in a ’proper’ team environment. Ninth overall in his rookie year in a 20-strong TRS field many rate as the most competitive yet, Taylor is back into his studies and the family are working hard to nail down funding for a run at the 2017 title.
20 years old, Invercargill,
Victory Motor Racing
For the first time, Brendon Leitch had the funding to mount a full assault on the championship – and it showed at every round.
The young Southland driver was on the pace from Ruapuna to Manfeild, narrowly missing a race win due to a dubious restart at Taupō but taking second in his ‘home’ feature race at Teretonga and backing that with another second place at Hampton Downs and a race win at Manfeild.
When the 2016 championship ended in mid-February it was back to work for Brendon – although he could hardly complain, since his ‘day job’ is at Tony Quinn’s Highland Park circuit in Cromwell, where Brendon is employed as a mechanic, fettling some of the most exotic and desirable cars in New Zealand and also taking VIPs for ‘hot lap’ rides around the circuit. Brendon is working to secure winter-season endurance race drives to keep his racecraft honed.
19 years old, Christchurch,
Giles Motor Racing
Stepping up the pace in his third foray into TRS after a frustrating run in the 2015 championship, James saw the results come as the championship progressed.
A chance to talk race lines and tactics with Mitch Evans at Hampton Downs proved valuable, with second in the New Zealand Motor Cup feature race at Hampton Downs a suitable reward for his determined efforts.
That result, along with a third at Taupō and a second at Manfeild, show the speed he is capable of.
James was the 2013 Formula Ford champion and 2014 Formula Masters China series winner. He is now racing in the American USF2000 Championship with Team Pelfrey, moving one step closer to his ultimate goal of racing in the IndyCar series.