Canadian Lance Stroll, 16, will lead the 2015 Toyota Racing Series into its final round this weekend at Manfeild.
The teenager has held the points advantage since the opening round at Ruapuna near Christchurch, and now has 726 points. He has proven the crucial need for consistency in the five week, 16 race championship.
Stroll is racing under the watchful eye of the Ferrari Driver Academy. He won the 2014 Italian F4 Series with 10 wins from 17 races, 14 podiums and 10 fastest laps. Previously he raced karts in Europe and the USA. Having not raced at the same level as TRS before the 2015 championship, Stroll is also in the running for the rookie title and can help his New Zealand team, M2 Competition, win the teams points battle. There are five rookie drivers in the top ten.
Though Stroll has won 3 races and two rounds of the championship, his path to the title is by no means a certainty.
Massed behind him are a group of fast young international drivers looking for any sign of weakness in the coming New Zealand Grand Prix weekend of racing.
Second in the championship on 641 points is fast young Indian racer Arjun Maini. Like Stroll, he has also won two races and is 85 points behind the leader. Every race win is worth 75 points, meaning Maini is well within reach of the Canadian. Rising through karting in his native India, Maini won the 2011 JK Tyre-FMSCI National Rotax Max Championship India – Junior title on debut. He continued in karting until the end of 2013, then stepped up to single-seaters.
In 2014 he was fourth in the AsiaCup Series with Meritus GP and second in British Formula 4 with Lanan Racing. His performance to date has put him in the sights of international talent scouts watching the series from Europe and the UK.
Third in the championship is Lance Stroll’s New Zealand and overseas team-mate Brandon Maisano, now recovered from a spectacular rollover at the penultimate round that allowed Maini to overtake him for second place. Maisano has won four races of the 13 held so far, but has not had as consistent a run through other races. He trails Maini by just 17 points. Internationally, Maisano has extensive experience in a range of Tatuus chassis and races with support from Prema and the Ferrari Driver Academy. Rising through karting categories, he won the CIK-FIA Monaco Kart Cup, won the KF3 class at the French Championship and was second in KF3 at the WSK International series in 2008. He also won the Copa Campeones Trophy in KF2 in 2008. He then won the South Garda Winter Cup KF2 class outright in 2009 and also won KF2 at the Trofeo Andrea Margutti in the same year.
Maisano won Formula Abarth in 2010, was third in Italian Formula 3 in 2012, and won the Italian Formula 4 Trophy in 2014.
These three drivers currently give M2 Competition a lock-out on the teams title.
The fourth driver with a mathematical chance of reeling in Stroll is young American Santino Ferrucci. Racing with Giles Motorsport, Ferrucci has 592 points. He has scored two third and three second placings and is looking to make the step up to a race win this weekend.
Rising through karting championship categories in the US and Europe, he made his step up into racing cars in 2013 and 2014, contesting F2000 series in the US and Formula 3 series in Europe and the UK. He finished eighth overall at the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.
This weekend at Manfeild they have three races to reel in the young Canadian including the premier feature race, the 60th New Zealand Grand Prix. More than ever, the emphasis is on consistency and making the most of qualifying sessions to ensure a good grid placing for each race.
The top New Zealand driver is Christchurch 18 year old James Munro, seventh overall on 466 points with Invercargill’s Damon Leitch just one point behind him in eighth.
New Zealand Grand Prix schedules
TRS cars are on track Friday for test sessions at 10.30am.1.30 pm and 3.00pm; Qualifying is on Saturday at 11.06 and 11.26 and the first race of the weekend is the 20-lap Dan Higgins Memorial at 3.00 pm.
Race two is over 15 laps starting at 10.30 am the next morning and the New Zealand Grand prix over 35 laps starts at 3.40 pm on Sunday.
Toyota Racing Series is New Zealand’s premier motor racing championship. It is be contested over five consecutive race weekends in January and February 2015. Taupo (February 7 and 8) is the penultimate round, a last chance for drivers to grab points before the New Zealand Grand prix. It is the first time TRS has raced on the fast and demanding Taupo circuit since 2013 and the feature race will be for the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy.
This year the New Zealand championship introduces the latest Toyota Tatuus FT-50 single-seater, powered by the proven Toyota 2ZZ-GE 1.8-litre engine. The new car features a Sadev six speed transmission with ‘paddle’ gearshift along with FIA-specification driver safety systems, enhanced aerodynamics and braking.
Many drivers who have risen through TRS have gone on to impressive racing careers. The championship has been an important step in the careers of the past three GP3 Series winners: Mitch Evans (2012, now racing in GP2 with the support of Mark Webber); Daniil Kvyat (2013), who made his Formula One debut this year with Scuderia Toro Rosso and steps up to the Red Bull Racing drive vacated by Sebastian Vettel; and Alex Lynn (2014), who was second in TRS in 2013, won the 2013 Macau Formula Three Grand Prix and has recently also tested in Formula One.