Toyota Racing Series - a breeding ground of champions
Graduates of the 2015 Toyota Racing Series are heading into a variety of fiercely competitive northern hemisphere categories.
The New Zealand-based TRS championship gives young racing drivers experience of racing a modern ‘wings and slicks’ single-seater in a professional team environment. This year TRS attracted 21 drivers from 15 countries including four New Zealanders and one Australian.
Drivers who race TRS during the southern hemisphere summer head back to championships in Europe, the UK and USA race-fit and ready for the challenges of WSR 2.0, Formula 3, GP3 and GP2, all categories that are recognised as options for drivers as they head towards Formula One and the opportunity of professional careers.
Even as the five week championship was reaching its mid-point, drivers were confirming their next steps, with many heading for the FIA European Formula Three Championship. With many ‘national’ F3 championships fading, the attention of the racing world is becoming more focused on the FIA European F3 series and categories like TRS that feed aspiring young race stars into what has become the most prestigious F3 series in the world. The Euro F3 championship starts on April 11 at Silverstone in the UK.
Young American Santino Ferrucci won the second race at the final round, finished third in TRS and has signed to drive in Euro F3 with leading German team Mucke Motorsport.
Austrian racers Ferdinand Habsburg and Stefan Reiner along with Irishman Charlie Eastwood will all step into Formula Renault 2.0 series for 2015. The 17-year-old Habsburg was 11th overall in his rookie TRS season.
Mexican driver Alfonso Celis Jr will contest the GP3 series in Europe with ART Grand Prix and has also been confirmed to drive in Formula Renault 3.5.
Russian Artem Markelov, eighth in TRS, will return to GP2 with the Russian Time team and will likely be joined by New Zealand’s Mitch Evans.
Elite driver development squads have been sending drivers to TRS in increasing numbers. This year, Ferrari Driver Academy and the Prema Powerteam brought championship winner Lance Stroll and French driver Brandon Maisano to the TRS. Stroll and Maisano finished TRS first and second overall and have been confirmed to race with Prema in Euro F3.
At the championship prizegiving, Lance Stroll said he had kept his focus on the championship win, knowing he had to stay consistent to defeat his rivals.
“It’s been a great series and an amazing result for me, the best preparation I could have wanted going into Euro F3,” he said.
Father Lawrence Stroll told the NZ Herald they had found the series “fantastic”
“We couldn't have spent a better five weeks racing and the preparation for his [Lance's] F3 series in Europe this year couldn't be better. The competition standard has been fantastic and my hat's off to the organisation as they've done a fantastic job."
Sam MacLeod is a member of the British Racing Driver Club’s Rising Stars programme. He will join the Motopark team to race in Euro F3.
“The TRS was incredibly competitive and it’s been a great way to get ready for Euro F3. Drivers who have spent this time on a simulator just won’t be as sharp.”
New Zealand’s Nick Cassidy is a multiple TRS champion and three-time NZ Grand Prix winner. He was the official test driver of the new TRS FT50 race car and during the 2015 TRS season he also competed in two rounds of the Toyota Finance 86 Championship. Also a member of the BRDC Rising Star programme, Cassidy has been confirmed to drive with the TOMS Toyota team in Japanese F3 this year.
Young British driver Callum Ilott showed flashes of brilliance in TRS 2015. He was confirmed as a Red Bull Junior athlete during the course of the series and announced a drive with top team Carlin in FIA Euro F3.
Arjun Maini, fourth in TRS, is also heading for FIA Formula 3 in Europe. He was the winner of the Force India F1 Team Academy’s ‘One From a Billion Hunt’ in 2011 which gained him support from the team during his campaign in Super One karting in 2012.
Australian Thomas Randle is a CAMS elite driver programme member, the only Australian in this year’s TRS field. He is heading into a season in Australia’s new Formula 4 Championship. Randle finished the championship 10th out of the 21 drivers (from 15 countries) and was the top finisher for the ETEC team.
“After five weekends here in NZ, the positives massively outweigh the negatives. If you told me five weeks ago that I would finish inside the top 10 of this series, I would have grabbed that result with both hands. TRS has been a massively beneficial and memorable experience for me, and one I know will only make me more complete as a racing driver.”
Young Kiwi James Munro was ninth, four points ahead of Randle. He hopes to compete offshore this year but has not confirmed his plans.
Other driver announcements are expected over the next few weeks.