Early sessions put track record under threat


Rain squalls, a ‘green’ track and a new car have not prevented the drivers of the Toyota Racing Series from putting the category lap records under threat as they prepare for the first round this weekend.

Six years after the series last raced at Ruapuna, Toyota Racing Series arrives back at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park near Christchurch to begin the 2015 championship and the 20-strong grid has already shown promising pace on the fast and technical 3.33 km international circuit.

In less than ideal conditions during unofficial practice on Wednesday, drivers dipped under the existing lap record and Arjun Maini, driving with M2 Competition, posted fastest time of the day, a 1:17.396. British driver calum Ilott also dipped into the 17s with a 1:17.637.

Regional pride is on the line this weekend at Ruapuna Motorsport Park as Canterbury hosts the nation’s premier motor racing championships.

In the Toyota Racing Series, 17 year old James Munro leads the Kiwi charge at his home track,. The 2013 NZ Formula Ford champion is fresh from winning the Formula Master China series and among Kiwis he goes up against 2014 NZ Formula Ford champion Jamie Conroy along with brothers Damon and Brendon Leitch, all of Invercargill.

It is the first time the Toyota Racing Series has raced at Ruapuna in six years, and the feature race on Sunday is for the prestigious Lady Wigram Trophy.

New Zealand’s premier motor racing category, TRS has a confirmed 21-driver entry list for its capped 20-car grid. The additional entry is a 3:2 shared drive of the five rounds and 16 races in this year’s championship.

Among the international drivers in TRS there is a Russian driver contesting the international GP2 series, an Austrian driver with links to Austro-Hungarian royalty and a British driver ranked among the country’s ‘most likely’.

The leading Russian driver is Artem Markelov (20). He was New Zealander Mitch Evans’ team-mate in the 2014 GP2 series, both racing for the Russian Time team. It is the first time in its 11 year history that the championship includes a current FIA GP2 series competitor.

The Austrian driver with family links to 20th century European royalty is Ferdinand Habsburg, a passionate and committed racer and motorsport enthusiast who has followed the career path of most aspiring racers through karting and into ‘wings and slicks’ single seaters.

Also fancied is Scottish racer Sam MacLeod, who was fourth in the 2014 German Formula 3 Cup series with van Amersfoort Racing and fourth in British F3 with Fortec. He raced karts from 2009-2012.

Ferrari’s driver development organisation has returned to TRS after a gap of two years, bringing 2014 Italian F4 Series winner Lance Stroll and French star Brandon Maisano with support from the respected Prema team.

The series is contested over five consecutive race weekends on five New Zealand race circuits from Hampton Downs in the north to Invercargill in the south. Drivers will race for some of the most prestigious trophies in New Zealand motor racing including the 60th anniversary of the New Zealand Grand Prix.