Armstrong, Lawson, Leitch: the Kiwis of the Toyota Racing Series
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And so we begin … again.
The 2019 international motorsport circuit racing season, worldwide, starts this weekend at the Highlands Motorsport Park circuit in Cromwell.
It used to be called the “Summer of Motorsport” but now goes under the heady title of the “Premier Motorsport Championship” and once again there is a very talented field of drivers in the many classes on track but the headline act must be the Castrol Toyota Racing Series (TRS).
Celebrating it’s fifteenth consecutive year as an international series, the TRS continues to attract drivers from overseas intent on not only getting as much preparation to be as ‘race fit’ as they can before launching in to their own summer seasons but trying to win the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the series, the New Zealand Grand Prix.
It is worth repeating that the Grand Prix, held at the ‘Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon’ in February, is one of only two such events to hold the official FIA title of ‘Grand Prix’ outside of Formula 1.
The other being the Macau Grand Prix. Both events retain the title due to historic continuity.
The series has also been granted, by the FIA, as being eligible for earning Formula 1 ‘Super Points’, awarded to the top five drivers in the championship with the winner bagging 7 points.
To be able to drive in Formula 1 as a new driver forty points must be accrued over a three year period so those seven points are a very valuable tick in the box of any Formula 1 hopeful, especially so early in the year.
This Castrol TRS season 2019 sees two of New Zealand’s brightest hopes for future stardom appearing on the grid and the battle for supremacy between them will be a fascinating watch.
Photo / Van Amersfoort Racing
The ‘rookie’ Liam Lawson and the Ferrari Driver Academy member Marcus Armstrong.
They are joined by the ever competitive, and tough competitor, Brendon Leitch from Invercargill.
To call Lawson [pictured above] a rookie, while technically correct in TRS terms, is slightly misleading, as he has had a ‘stellar’ career to date.
For one so young - he will turn 17 years of age on February 11 this year - he has raced and won in racing series in New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Asia, and driven and tested cars in other European countries as well as the United States.
He has recently been voted by one international publication as being in the top 35 single seater drivers in European racing outside of Formula 1.
The talents of Marcus Armstrong are well known and he has been steadily climbing the ranks of European racing, most recently in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, one of the toughest series on the calendar.
Still only 18 years of age, he finished in fifth place in the championship but was in contention to win it for the major part of the season until car reliability problems, and being the victim in a couple of accidents, struck.
Armstrong is returning for his third season in the TRS after narrowly missing out on the title last year.
Photo / Bruce Jenkins, supplied
Leitch [pictured above] will be racing in his sixth TRS season and has never been anything less than a very competitive driver with his best result being a third in the championship.
After racing in the USA he will be using the TRS as a platform to race overseas again during 2019.
With these three Kiwis and the international drivers, some rookies and some returnees, some from major international series, this coming season will be no less fiercely fought out than any other.
The Castrol Toyota Racing Series cars are built and raced to the strictest FIA regulations but do not, at this point, have the infamous ‘halo’ cockpit protection device but clearly that will arrive in seasons to come.
As a very basic comparison to a road car, a Toyota Corolla Hatch GX, a Toyota Racing Series car weighs a minimum of 550kg (including driver) while a Corolla ‘kerb weight’ (no occupants or baggage) is 1340kg.
A TRS car has an 1800cc engine producing 215hp (160kW) with a six speed gearbox.
The Corolla has a 2.0 litre engine producing 168hp (125kW) and a direct-shift CV transmission and can conveniently seat four or five passengers.
Sadly a TRS car is only available in the personally and individually created single seat option.
With the aerodynamic effect of the front and rear wings and wide ‘slick’ tyres (not available on a Corolla even as an option) and a weight around 40% of the Corolla, together with all the other bits and pieces that make up a racing car, the TRS car is very fast and slots in nicely with the international Formula 3, Formula Renault type of series.
Over the past 14 seasons many TRS competitors have gone on to great international success and we can see them here on our shores before they become internationally famous.