TALENTED TAYLOR COCKERTON HAS MADE HIS CAREER GOALS CLEAR
With names like Brendon Hartley, Mitch Evans, Richie Stanaway and Earl Bamber all earning exceptional international accolades last year, it would be predictable to see New Zealand's next wave of young, talented up-and-comers strive to follow in their vast footsteps and set goals in Europe.
This logic is particularly true for those who commit to a season in the Toyota Racing Series (TRS), a category in which all the above drivers cut their teeth before taking their next career steps.
However, that logic doesn't necessarily apply to 2016 series rookie Taylor Cockerton.
The Bombay 18-year-old is eying up a future in the V8 Supercars over the ditch, where New Zealanders Shane van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard, Scott McLaughlin, Andre Heimgartner, and Chris Pither all compete.
“My ultimate goal is that I’d love to race in the V8 Supercars. That’s the goal I want to set. It’s a local, achievable goal as well — I never thought Formula 1 or Europe would be on the cards,” Cockerton told Driven, during round three of the series at Hampton Downs.
“I’ve talked to a few people, like Kenny Smith and a few of the other legends of the sport, and they always say to keep your goals realistic, specific, and focus on what you’ve got to achieve.
“At the moment, I want to be focusing on the TRS, and just doing well in this. Then we can see what’s on the horizon.” Having won last season's New Zealand Formula Ford title, Cockerton’s career path is set to bear resemblance to that of Penske Racing pilot Scott Pye.
The Australian used two seasons in TRS to complement his Australian and British Formula Ford exploits, eventually winding up in a V8 Supercars Dunlop Development Series role with the iconic Triple 8 Race Engineering team.
After three years in the touring-car category, Pye is tipped to be a future star.
Despite luck deserting Cockerton several times in rounds one and two, at Mike Pero Motorsport Park and Teretonga Motorsport Park, the young driver had achieved competitive results. Approaching his effective home circuit, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Cockerton had been sparked with confidence.
“I set the goal early in the championship that I wanted to be consistently finishing in the top 12 to top 10. At the first round we had good pace. We had some unfortunate bad luck, but we had the top-ten pace... We had a little bit of a fall back in pace in the second round, but that was my least-experienced track,” he explained, two days before race day.
“I’m looking forward to Hampton Downs, I know the track well, and I think we can build on the good start.”
One of the driver's main challenges has been adapting to the different FT-50 chassis, after stepping out of a Formula Ford.
“They’re a wings-and-slicks single seater, so they’ve got aerodynamic grip, whereas a Formula Ford has got mostly just mechanical grip. The corner speeds that you take in these cars is so fast, and obviously they brake and accelerate a lot better than a Formula Ford — everything’s just a big step up.
“The pre-season testing I got in the older-model car, thanks to Toyota, helped. It’s been quite tricky to adapt over the first rounds, but I’m getting there now.”
What resulted from Cockerton's confident outset at Hampton Downs was a trio of top-ten results — his most competitive outing.
Finishing 10th in races one and three, his weekend’s highlight was his charging drive to eighth in race two — avoiding the chaos that blighted the midfield, which peaked after contenders Lando Norris (UK) and Artem Markelov (Russia) came together.
“There was a lot of carnage, a lot going on in front of me. Because it was a reverse top eight race, it put all of the fast guys in the middle of the pack, so the first few laps were a lot of banging wheels, and a lot of locking up. “So it was just a matter of keeping my nose clean.”
After failing to score a single top ten finish in his debut season, Brazil's Pedro Piquet holds down second place in the 2016 series, having just won the NZ Motor Cup. Cockerton has similar aims for his second season.
“We’re going to aim to make this a two-year campaign. This year being a learning season, and perhaps the second year we can have a crack at a top-three finish in the championship.
“The level of competition is so great. You look at the pace, and you’re effectively versing some of the best guys in the world at their age. These guys are true racers, they come from Europe, and they know how to race hard and fast.”
With round four of the series at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park completed over the past weekend, drivers in the series will now be gearing up for this weekend's NZ Grand Prix meeting at Manfeild Autocourse.