A last minute deal means Taylor Cockerton, the 2017 Formula Masters Champion, will contest the 2018 Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
Until last Wednesday, Cockerton (20) had been unable to find full financial backing for the championship and was not expected to race. To stay close to the action, he had organised a role as a mechanic for the MTEC team in the five-round championship which starts at Ruapuna near Christchurch this weekend.
Though it would have kept him in touch with New Zealand’s premier race category, it was a source of frustration for Pukekohe’s Cockerton, who won the New Zealand Formula F1600 championship in 2014-2015, then raced in the 2015-2016 Toyota 86 Championship and the 2016 Toyota Racing Series where he finished ninth overall on debut. Returning to TRS in 2017, Cockerton improved his finish to seventh.
That campaign was the perfect springboard to the Asian Formula Masters series, which uses 2.0-litre engines in a similar Tatuus chassis. Cockerton fought his way through to outright victory.
Now, he becomes the fifth Kiwi in this year’s Championship. The last time TRS had five local drivers on the grid was 2013.
“I’m really excited to be back for my third assault on TRS coming off the back of my strongest year of racing. After winning the 2017 Formula Masters Series in Asia there is a lot of pressure on me to win. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“I actually only found out I could race last Wednesday! I was buzzing when the phone call came through.”
A graduate of MotorSport New Zealand’s Elite Motorsport Academy, Cockerton says gathering a budget to compete in TRS has always been difficult for most Kiwis. Assistance from the independent Kiwi Driver Fund has helped him get to the start of this year’s Championship.
“The Kiwi Driver Fund has been so helpful to me the last few years. I wouldn't have been on the grid without that extra support, particularly for this season,” he said.
Cockerton says he expects to encounter hard racing from the internationals and Kiwis alike and he knows consistency is everything.
“I think Marcus [Armstrong] will be the favourite this year. Given the mileage he had in TRS and overseas in 2017 I think he will be very fast. Likewise, I am sure Brendon [Leitch] will be right up there given his experience and his international racing in 2017. But my goal this year is still to be the fastest Kiwi, and I believe we have the package to do so,” he said.
The 2018 Championship re-unites Cockerton with the race engineer who fettled his car in his debut season, Ruben Cassanova.
“Ruben has a wealth of knowledge with all forms of single seaters. We have a good relationship and get on really well and I think we will make a good combination.”
Watching from the stands and pit lane will be Cockerton’s father Dean, himself a single-seater racer of note in past seasons.
“Dad actually competed in the 1999 NZ Grand Prix at Ruapuna against some of NZ’s biggest motorsport names, so he's no stranger to a competitive series like this. He hasn’t missed a single race in my two seasons of TRS and still gets a massive buzz out of watching me!”
Cockerton is a busy man. Immediately after racing concludes on Sunday afternoon, he will board a flight for Sepang in Malaysia to test an Audi R8 GT3 Cup car with leading team KCMG.
“That’s pretty exciting – if the test goes well, there’s the chance of a drive in the Blancpain GT Asia series this year.”