The Toyota Racing Series has been a breeding ground for future motor racing stars from New Zealand and around the world, with graduates in Formula 1 and almost all the classes below it.
Sports car racing saw one past entrant, Kiwi Earl Bamber, win the Le Mans 24-hour event and another Kiwi, Brendon Hartley, become the FIA World Endurance champion last year.
NZ Grand Prix winner and TRS champion Nick Cassidy won the Japanese Formula 3 title and fellow Kiwis Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway are climbing world rankings.
Andrew Tang poses with his parents, Anita and SK, at Hampton Downs. Photo / Mark Baker.
The first overseas driver to win the TRS Championship, after nine years of Kiwi dominance, was Andrew Tang.
Under Christchurch-based race engineer Andy Neale, the young Singaporean was a consistent and competitive front-runner in the 2014 TRS season, winning against strong competition from many drivers who have gone on to race around the world.
In 2012 Tang had been selected to join the McLaren Team’s Young Driver Programme and after his TRS success the future was looking good. However he is serving two years’ compulsory military service, which will end in May.
Tang is 20, when two years is a lifetime in motorsport terms. The law has effectively stalled his international career path.
Family patriarch SK Tang has nothing but praise for the TRS.
“The Toyota Racing Series is the very best racing series. It embodies the true spirit of racing and I recommend it to any young driver,” he said.
“Not only do they get a lot of racing but they spend a lot of time together and that promotes comradeship and they learn from each other.
“I have no doubt that it helped develop Andrew’s racing skills.”
Tang has submitted his CV to the Porsche Carrera Cup China programme for the Carrera Cup Asia and won the competition in a four-day shootout against a strong lineup of nine candidates from China, Malaysia and South Korea.
The Toyota Racing Series first round for 2016 at Ruapuna, Christchurch. Picture/Matthew Hansen.
The candidates were evaluated by a formidable team of Porsche motorsport professionals and, although Tang was actually the slowest driver on the day, the win meant he was given a contract and around 50 per cent of the season sponsorship funding to enable him to compete.
Bamber won the championship in 2013 and 2014. Another Kiwi and TRS graduate, Chris van der Drift, triumphed last year.
“I am racing in the A class ... against the professional drivers. I know it is going to be challenging but I believe it is a huge opportunity to learn as well as show my worth,” said Tang.
One round is a support race to the Singapore F1 GP.
“I have always dreamed of racing and winning on the streets of Singapore. Hopefully I can make my family, friends sponsors and country proud,” he said.
Since winning the TRS and then taking time out for his national service, the focus has changed.
“When I started racing my target was Formula 1 but now I’m older and because of serving in the army I haven’t been able to follow that progression. That may have stemmed my learning curve but I still think I have the capability to reach the highest level.”
The first round of the 2016 TRS series was held at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park at Ruapuna last weekend and some bright new talent was on the track.
Young English driver Lando Norris leads the championship but at least a dozen other drivers look more than capable of winning a race.
That includes the three Kiwis — James Munro (Christchurch), Brendon Leitch (Invercargill) and Auckland rookie Taylor Cockerton.
The second round takes place at Teretonga, Invercargill, this weekend.
2016 TRS SERIES
Round 2 January 21-24, Teretonga Park, Invercargill, Spirit of a Nation.
Round 3 January 28-31, Hampton Downs, New Zealand Motor Cup. Round 4 February 4-7, Taupo Motorsport Park, Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy. Round 5 February 11-14, Manfeild, Feilding, New Zealand Grand Prix.