A NEW PRIZE FUND IS THE BOOST YOUNG TALENT NEEDS, WRITES BOB MCMURRAY
The administration and promotion of motorsport in New Zealand has been akin to a ship on very turbulent seas -- in fact in the middle of a Force 10 gale -- over recent years.
It knows where it wants to go, the course it wants to plot, but keeps getting blown off course by the winds, waves and swells of infighting, egotistical and personal battles, a lack of professionalism and a seeming non-acceptance that sport in this country is still -- and forever will be -- an essentially small and amateur occupation.
Yet still the country and the sport continue to produce dedicated, talented young competitors who have the determination to achieve success at home and on the international stage.
As always, these young people need help with their chosen path and again, as always, that path is dependent on some financial support as well as suitable classes in which to race.
The best option is a formula or series that is controlled, professional, safe and with equally performing vehicles, which enables them to show evidence of talent rather than who has the biggest chequebook.
The rise and rise of "one-make series" around the world is no accident but rather an economic necessity fuelled by the need to make the driver or team the important elements, and not just the cash.
The Toyota Racing Series is perhaps the best and most acknowledged launchpad for our young open-wheel stars to display their talent to the international world, mainly by beating them on the track when the annual series attracts drivers from around the world each year.
Traditionally, kids started their career in karting and progressed through the minor single-seat formulae into the series. But, although karting is still strong in New Zealand, that path has fragmented over recent years so there has been a disengagement
I would venture to say no car manufacturer has done more in recent years to encourage new young talent and bring professionalism to elements of the sport than Toyota NZ.
Before the cries of "bias" echo from the walls I admit I am a Toyota Racing NZ ambassador, and very proud of being so.
That matters not in the context of what the company has done and is continuing to do to encourage young drivers to participate and advance in motorsport.
The Toyota Racing Series functions as a solid springboard for young race drivers worldwide. Photo / Matthew Hansen
MotorSport NZ has recently elected a new president and a revised executive board and there is a new promoter who has taken over responsibility for the summer series, so moves are afoot to bring the sport back to a measure of its former prominence. But the bottom line is that "the show" is the most important thing in attracting the crowds.
Those changes do not, however necessarily help young drivers. So Toyota NZ's announcement of the biggest prize fund ever offered for a domestic series, the TR 86 Championship Series worth $100,000, certainly will.
The Toyota Racing 86 Series is approaching its fourth year and has become New Zealand's premier saloon car series with a full 24-car grid expected for the first event this year.
Toyota NZ motorsport manager Steve Boyce says: "The series was originally designed for drivers of all ages to have fun with, but has also become a training ground for the younger ones who have benefited from racing with the more experienced drivers and that helps develop their talents.
"It is all part of our stated campaign of 'Finding New Zealand's Next World Champion' and we think the TR 86 series and this prize fund will help in that.
"Perhaps the young drivers will go on to driving in the Toyota Racing Series and that is what we are about -- developing young Kiwi driving talent. We are very fortunate that our CEO [Alistair Davis] is really quite passionate about that and we are in the sport for the very long haul."
Another Toyota NZ initiative is the Kiwi Driver Fund. Totally independent from the company and the racing series, it aims to help aspiring and talented young drivers to compete in the Toyota Racing Series.
The fund has attracted support from Post Haste Couriers and Michelin Tyres as well as a commitment from Tony Quinn, owner of Highlands Motorsport Park (Cromwell) and Hampton Downs (Waikato).
Boyce adds: "We don't want to own the sport, very far from it. But we want to help support, encourage and stimulate the careers of young Kiwi drivers and we hope these measures will go some way to achieving that."
The Toyota Racing TR 86 2016-17 six-round series begins at the V8 Supercars meeting at Pukekohe early in November.