A record 19-strong international contingent among the 23-car grid for this year’s Toyota Racing Series promises tough competition as New Zealand’s premier motor racing championship begins this weekend at Teretonga circuit near Invercargill.
As the championship enters its tenth year, the strength of the overseas contingent raises the prospect that the title could be taken for the first time by an international driver. The overseas entry includes racers returning for a second run at the title and the son of three-times Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet. Pedro Piquet is moving up from karting into full-size ‘wings and slicks’ single seater race cars this year and is coming to New Zealand to get valuable experience.
Three overseas drivers who contested the 2013 championship are back to fight for the title: Jann Mardenborough (UK), Steijn Schothorst (Netherlands) and Andrew Tang (Singapore) will put their 2013 experience to good use from the first race. There are thirteen countries represented in the 2014 starting line-up.
Four young New Zealand drivers go up against the overseas entries including the current Formula Ford champion, James Munro of Christchurch, and Invercargill’s Damon Leitch, who has finished as high as third in the championship.
Invercargill brothers Brendon and Damon Leitch will have the early ‘home’ advantage, with the series’ now traditional first round at Teretonga.
Damon (20) will be contesting his fourth season of TRS. With a racing career that began in karts at age 7 he has progressed through Formula Ford to TRS.
Younger brother Brendon (18) is moving up from Formula Ford where he finished third in 2012 and was second in 2013 behind fellow 2014 Kiwi TRS entrant James Munro. Like his brother Damon, Brendon Leitch has a solid foundation of karting that began in cadet karts in 2005.
Te Puke’s Michael Scott (19) contested TRS for the first time in 2013. Like most young racers he also began his racing career in karting before moving up to Formula First, Formula Ford and on to the premier category. A full-time student, he is balancing his passion for motor racing with university engineering studies.
With fifteen races at five circuits over consecutive weekends, the series regularly attracts rising drivers from around the world, drawn by the prospect of up to 3000 km of practice, qualifying and racing in the northern hemisphere winter season.
It offers aspiring local racers the chance to compete in modern ‘wings-and-slicks’ open-wheel race cars before heading offshore to the next step in their careers.
For the international drivers, the series offers five weeks of intense racing action that propels them back into their northern hemisphere seasons ready to win races and championships.
The championship is also among New Zealand’s most significant sports television ‘exports’, with the racing screened in up to 40 countries around the world. New Zealand coverage is on Prime and SKY TV.