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Right on Track

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He’s too young to step into a premier single-seater drive in New Zealand; in fact he’s too young to hold a driver’s licence in New Zealand – but Pukekohe 15-year-old Liam Lawson has been named the winner of the 2017-18CareVets Scholarship drive in the Toyota 86 Championship.

A student at Pukekohe High School, Liam has also been juggling his studies with a motor racing career, battling for the points lead in the Australian Formula 4 Championship. He has led the Australian championship, scored three wins, four second places and two thirds, and going into the final rounds he trailed the points leader, Nick Rowe (2016 runner-up), by just one point.

He says Formula 4 has ramped up considerably in the space of a year and the experience has been invaluable as he plots his next move: into the Toyota 86 Championship and on to new challenges in 2018.

“The grids are good, the pace is up, and there are heaps of drivers looking to knock the frontrunners off their spot. It’s really good racing,” he says.

Liam is tipped to become New Zealand’s next giant-killing talent, having won the NZ Formula 1600 Championship here over the 2017 summer with an emphatic 14 wins from 15 starts. He has caught the eye of mentor and talent spotter Kenny Smith, who says the young driver is “pretty darn quick”. The pair, along with racer Tom Alexander, were at Hampton Downs in late June to take a look at a Toyota 86 Championship race car; the following month Lawson lined up against other rising race stars to try out for the CareVets Scholarship drive.

Up against nine other hopeful young drivers at Hampton Downs, Liam found himself tested as never before and came through triumphant.

The scholarship provides one rising race driver a year with a largely paid drive in New Zealand’s premier one-make racing series.

Held each year at the internationally renowned Hampton Downs race circuit, the scholarship’s challenge day tests candidates on their fitness, media skills and motivation, and closely examines their career plans before sending them out to show their race driving skills on track.

Liam said the hardest part of the day came first: a run around the Hampton Downs race track.

“I can ride a bike, swim, do anything physical but I’m really not very good at running – and Hampton Downs is a very long circuit on foot!”

Once out on the circuit in a Toyota TR 86 race car, Liam says, the day came together quickly for him.

“The cars are really well balanced, next best thing to a single-seater. I felt very much at home in the cockpit even though it was my first competitive experience in a ‘tin top’ race car,” he says.

Liam is racing alongside 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Jack Milligan of Christchurch. In the 2016-17 Championship, the CareVets team – put together by Dr Keith Houston – took lead driver Ryan Yardley to outright victory, while Jack scored fourth place as well as Rookie of the Year.

Liam’s aim is to race the 2017-18 Championship with CareVets and then to step up to single-seaters.