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Champions in training are ready for the TRS challenge
Over the summer of 2004-05, the Toyota Racing Series came on to the racing scene in New Zealand.
It was a revolution -- the first one-make, closely regulated series using internationally recognised carbon fibre single-seater "wings and slicks" chassis to appear in Australasia.
The series was initially developed as an incubator for Kiwi talent and in that first season not a single overseas driver was on the grid.
The first race was won by Brendon Hartley and in that inaugural series were 16 more Kiwi drivers, among them, Daniel Gaunt and Chris Pither.
All three have gone on to international success, Hartley reaching the highest international step -- world champion.
Seasons two and three saw international drivers wake up to the series, with visitors from Australia and a handful of Northern Hemisphere drivers making the trip Downunder but they were joined by new junior stars from New Zealand.
Shane van Gisbergen, Earl Bamber and Chris van der Drift began to show the watching world their fledgling talent.
As the reputation of TRS grew around the world, the international element expanded but still the Kiwi drivers put up the stiffest of competition and international new star names such as Scott Pye, Jason Bargwanna and Will Stevens found that those new Kiwis, among them Mitch Evans, Nick Cassidy and Richie Stanaway, had a special talent and were destined for big futures.
Over the next few seasons and up to today, the beginning of the 2017 Castrol Toyota Racing Series at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch, a look through the names of past drivers is impressive.
Evans, Cassidy and Stanaway in various international series, Daniil Kvyatt (now in Formula 1), Alex Lynn (GP2 and F1), Jordan King (F1), Raffaele Marciello (GP2 and F1), Pipo Derani (sports cars), Nicholas Latifi (GP2), the list goes on.
These drivers have graduated to all forms of top-line motor sport with 2015 season champion Lance Stroll the latest to join the Formula 1 grid, driving for Williams, and 2016 series runner-up Jehan Daruvala joining the Force India F1 team as a development driver.
I am fortunate and proud to say that I have been involved with the Toyota Racing Series as an "ambassador" since that first season and have seen many drivers come into the series and go on to success around the globe.
There is a waiting list of international drivers eager to come to the farthest reach of the motorsport world to compete in the series and, in doing so, enable our aspiring drivers to gauge how competitive they are, without the expense of going to Europe.
These drivers choose New Zealand and the TRS over going to the United States or Australia. Yet still the series is criticised by a seeming old guard of "better in my day" club members.
I would venture to say that the majority of those people who complain about the loss of the likes of Timaru to the TRS calendar have never once had to find a season budget or repair modern carbon fibre or rebuild a modern race car, never been a mechanic, team member or racing driver.
It is easy to sit back, be critical and write about something the writer has never experienced, the "good old days", they say.
Those good old days were not so good when one looks at the facts but those plain facts, as is normal, are quickly eclipsed by the romantic and teary eyed memories of the good bits rather than the bad. The drivers, these people say, are not a patch on the likes of Hill, Clark or Stewart. Perhaps not, just yet, as all of those drivers were World Champions and the TRS field is made up of champions in training.
People who make these comparisons should also remember that when a Formula 1 race used to happen in Europe we were able to read about it in the newspapers ... a week later. Now we see it live on TV.
The world has changed and by necessity our sport has changed.
Without the Castrol Toyota Racing Series and the support of Toyota New Zealand, the international status of modern motorsport here would be zero. The country would be a forgotten backwater and a mere paragraph in the ongoing history of the sport.
Our talented drivers, by their own admission, would never have had the chance to showcase their talents to the world without the competition of the series, and the TRS banner "Finding New Zealand's Next World Champion" is as true today as it was in 2005.
We have some of the best young drivers in the world racing on circuits around the country over the next five weekends. They may next be Formula 1, Le Mans or IndyCar stars.
As TV channel ESPN constantly says in its commercials "Where tomorrow's stars shine today", that statement can never be more true than in the TRS.
Enjoy what we have; celebrate it now because now may well become "the good old days" of the future.
It is the best series in the world at what it does. And it is the best we have in New Zealand, or are likely to have, in this modern age of single-seater racing.
Castrol Toyota Racing Series 2017 Race Calendar
Round 1: Jan 11-15, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch, Lady Wigram Trophy
Round 2: Jan 19-22, Teretonga Park, Invercargill, Spirit of a Nation
Round 3: Jan 26-29, Hampton Downs, New Zealand Motor Cup
Round 4: Feb 2-5, Taupo Motorsport Park, Taupo, Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy
Round 5: Feb 9-12, Manfeild, Feilding, New Zealand Grand Prix (along with the Dan Higgins Trophy and Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup)