Young gun on the way up: Christchurch schoolboy kart racer Marcus Armstrong will have his first taste of one-make racing when he joins the Toyota Finance 86 Championship this weekend at Taupo. Armstrong, 13, is the son of businessman Rick Armstrong and is the protégé and cycling buddy of 2014 New Zealand Grand Prix winner Nick Cassidy.
Armstrong has already made a name for himself in kart racing in New Zealand and overseas. In 2013 he won Formula Junior at the Kartsport NZ Schools Championship, won the 100cc Junior Yamaha class at the Kartsport NZ South Island Sprint Championship, won the Arai Helmets Junior class at the Rotax Max Challenge and was third in Junior Stock Moto at the American SKUSA Supernationals.
Armstrong will line up on the grid this weekend in a new Toyota TR 86 race car run by Christchurch-based Neale Motorsport. Team owner Andy Neale has a knack for spotting rising talent in motorsport. Neale took Singaporean Andrew Tang to victory in this year’s Toyota Racing Series, and Nick Cassidy to his NZGP win.
Andrew Davis, Toyota’s Assistant General Manager-Marketing, says the TR 86 championship offers Marcus Armstrong the ideal introduction to one-make motorsport and underlines Toyota’s ongoing commitment to nurturing rising driver talent in New Zealand motorsport.
“For more than a decade Toyota has given our most promising young drivers the opportunity to develop their skills in a professional environment, first with the Toyota Racing Series and now with the Toyota Finance 86 Championship. The 86 has garnered critical and public praise in New Zealand and worldwide. The near-perfect weight distribution, rear wheel drive and 2.0-litre Boxer engine make the 86 a fantastic performance template, while the closely controlled specification of the version used in the championship keeps costs down and ensures a level playing field,” Mr Davis said.
“This means that the championship is a fair and level competition with success dependent on driver skill and car set-up. Marcus has shone in his karting career and has the potential to go far in motorsport, so it will be fascinating to see how he goes in coming rounds of the TR 86 championship.”
Also joining the series is Aucklander John Lovich, in the Neil Allport Motorsports car. Lovich has a background in karting and has raced the BMW E30 one-marque series. Lovich is sponsored by Jim Lovich Motors, Make Cheese with Jean Mansfield, Lovich Floors Ltd and Industrial Sweeping & Scrubbing.
The championship is heading into its fifth round this weekend.
Wellington racer Jamie McNee has a 79 point championship lead to defend on the fast straights and challenging infield corners of the Ricoh Taupo Motorsport Park.
The 3.32 km Taupo circuit has never hosted a round of the 86 championship before, so drivers will have the opportunity to set and re-set race lap records during the weekend’s three races.
McNee’s racing career marks him as one to watch in the inaugural Toyota Finance 86 Championship: he comes to the new one-make series with a racing resumé that starts in karting, travels through Formula First and Formula Ford all the way to Toyota Racing Series, where he was third in the 2011 Championship racing with ETEC Motorsport.
Chasing him is a pack of young racers that includes Christchurch’s Tom Alexander, second on 680 and Callum Quin, third on 656.
Andrew Waite has only contested rounds three and four but is sixth for the championship and says he is ‘delighted’ to confirm he will race at the Taupo round. Like McNee, Waite is a former single-seater race driver and like McNee he has contested the Toyota Racing Series.
Tom Alexander has also raced single-seaters, most recently Formula Fords at national championship level, and is being backed by the experienced Kenny Smith.
With 75 points available from each race win, McNee must make the most of every start in order to stay ahead of Alexander and Quin, while Waite, Ashley Blewett and Matt Gibson will all be looking to add to their points tallies.