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Toyota's high-profile involvement in New Zealand Motorsport is set to continue for a long time.
Its motorsport arm, Toyota Racing New Zealand, is now well established at its Hampton Downs Motorsport Park facility in North Waikato, where the fleet of Tatuus single-seater race cars used in the annual Castrol Toyota Racing Series (TRS) and some of the Toyota 86 Championship sports coupes are based.
The Toyota 86 Championship has been at Hampton Downs for 12 months now, after having previously been located at Mt Richmond, Ōtāhuhu.
“We have a long-term lease of the facility,” explains Motorsport Manager Mark Whittaker.
“I don’t see any changes for a while. Toyota New Zealand has invested heavily in this facility and the cars.”
Preparations for the coming season are well advanced with the rebuilding of the 20 single-seaters used in the five-round TRS, which starts its 15th season at Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell in the weekend of January 12 and 13.
Five full-time staff work at the Hampton Downs facility. Mark is supported by TRS Category Managers Sarah Brown and Nico Caillol, while Josh Greenland is the Technical Manager for the single-seaters and Bruce Airey fills a similar role for the 86s. They are backed up by contractors.
Lou Schollum is responsible for the Sadev six-speed gearboxes used in the TRS cars, while David Gouk cares for all the 1.8-litre motors fitted to every car. Those major components should be ready to slot into the cars by the end of September-early October.
Josh is responsible for the other components – suspension, steering and brakes – that bolt on to the carbon-fibre chassis, which are about to start their fifth season.
Operating from Hampton Downs, where all the operations are centralised, has made life a lot easier, says Mark.
“Organising testing is much easier. The track is just outside the door.”
Testing since last summer’s racing finished has been aimed at continually improving the cars, rather than finding better outright performance. Toyota also uses the facility on a regular basis, with its own corporate hospitality suite situated above the start-finish straight. Visitors to the facility can get a good view of everything that goes on at Toyota Racing New Zealand. One wall of the workshop has floor-to-ceiling glass with the adjoining museum and café, which also incorporates a roastery. From there the public can watch as the 20 TRS single-seaters and Toyota 86 Championships cars are worked on.
“It’s an attraction in its own right. We have nothing to hide because all the cars are prepared to be equal so that drivers’ abilities make the main difference out on the track.”
No decisions have been made on how the TRS might develop. The ‘halo’ roll-cage-like structures used in Formula One and Two have now appeared in some Formula Three categories and are likely to be more widespread in Europe in 2019.
“We can’t retrofit them to the TRS,” says Mark.
There is also speculation about the hybrid technology used in Formula One and Two filtering down to lower formulas.
“We’re staying as we are for now,” says Mark. “We are watching how the other related international categories develop their cars and safety systems, and will plan accordingly.”
In the immediate future Toyota Racing New Zealand is looking forward to a big summer in 2018 and 2019.
Interest in the Toyota 86 Championship is at an all-time high, and Category Manager Geoff Short expects to see 17 cars on the grid for the first round in November.
That series continues until the final round at Hampton Downs on March 9 and 10 next year.
It includes rounds at Highlands Park and Teretonga in the South Island as well as the Grand Prix Manfield: Circuit Chris Amon, near Palmerston North, on February 9 and 10.
Young, up-and-coming international drivers are being courted for the TRS.
Nico has been talking to drivers, their managers and sponsors contesting Formula Four, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Formula Three in Australia, Asia, North America and Europe, with a view to assembling a high-class field for the championship, which finishes with the New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild.
THE FULL SCHEDULE FOR THE 2019 CASTROL TOYOTA RACING SERIES IS:
January 10-13 Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell
January 17-20 Teretonga Park, Invercargill
January 24-27 Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato
January 31 – February 3 Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo
February 7-10 Manfeild Park, Feilding
THE FULL SCHEDULE FOR THE TOYOTA 86 CHAMPIONSHIP IS:
November 2-4 Pukekohe (with Supercars)
December 7-9 Pukekohe short track (no back straight chicane)
January 11-13 Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell (with Castrol Toyota Racing Series)
January 18-20 Teretonga Park, Invercargill (with Castrol Toyota Racing Series)
February 8-10 New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild, Circuit Chris Amon, Manawatu (with Castrol Toyota Racing Series)
March 9-10 Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato