He's back: Liam Lawson confirms plans to defend NZ Toyota Racing Series crown
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Toyota Racing Series champion and New Zealand Grand Prix winner Liam Lawson will defend both titles when the 2020 series begins next month.
The five-round TRS contest will debut a new chassis, turbocharged engine and Hankook tyre package offering increased power and aerodynamic performance with what is shaping up to be a full 20-car field of rising international racing stars.
But defending the TRS crown wasn’t an automatic option for the 17-year-old who used his 2019 success as a launch pad to join the Red Bull Junior programme where he was thrust into a two-pronged single-seater campaign.
Photo / Geoff Ridder
"I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it [TRS] again after winning it this year. But as the year has gone on and it’s got closer I’ve got more and more excited," says Lawson.
Lawson’s local backers — the prominent ones being Turners, the Porter Group, BGW Wheels and Cumulo9 — are funding the 2020 TRS campaign.
"The car looks quite similar to last year," says Lawson.
The teenage Kiwi ace will again drive as part of the M2 Competition team which has won five of the last seven TRS titles. Lawson thinks the switch to the new FT-60 car and new team alliances between some of regular TRS squads and top-line European teams could make the series unpredictable.
"It looks like there will be a really good grid and it’s always nice to race at home. I think it’s going to be exciting."
Lawson clinched the 2019 TRS title as a 16-year-old — then turned 17 the day after winning the NZ Grand Prix at Manfeild Signing with the Red Bull Junior programme saw him finish runner-up in the EuroFormula Open Series and 12th in the FIA Formula 3 Championship. It all happened at a hectic pace.
"During TRS I still had no idea what I’d be racing this year. We had no plans," says Lawson.
"The Red Bull deal made everything possible. It was an amazing opportunity and something I’d dreamed of doing.
"There wasn’t much time to think about it. We were straight into pre-season testing in March and then the first Euro Formula race. I think the biggest break I had this year was three weeks in between races and there were a couple of times where I had four weeks in a row of solid racing. It was massively busy but it was very cool.
"The experience and the seat time I’ve had this year has been incredible."
Learning two new cars in 2019 should help Lawson launch into a TRS series that also features a new car.
"Every time you step up to a faster car you learn little things.
"You don’t realise how much there is to learn. Even now there’s so much more to learn about driving the car and also off-track like the physical training stuff, which I had to ramp up a lot this year driving the F3 car.
"It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. Everything goes up another level."
As does the pressure to perform.
"This year having Red Bull there has definitely been added pressure there. But I have a mentor and coach [Enzo Mucci] who has really helped on that side of things.
"At the start I was wanting to show I was worthy of being in a Red Bull seat but that can make for mistakes.
"I had to stop thinking about that and also stop thinking about the other guys in the Red Bull team. I just had to focus on what we were doing and when you can put that pressure aside is when you drive the best.
"I’m not saying I have mastered that but it’s a work in progress and it definitely makes a difference."
There were off-track highlights during 2019 that gave Lawson an insight to the world of Formula 1 that is his ultimate ambition.
"A couple of times during I year I was able to go into the Red Bull F1 garage during free practise and basically watch the session with a headset on and listen to the team communications.
"I also got to go into what they call the Ops Room in the Red Bull factory. It’s like mission control where all the data comes into during an F1 race and I learned about some things I never knew existed."
Lawson sums up his 2019 campaign as a mix of highs and frustrations.
"With FIA Formula 3 we struggled a lot. I was learning while the team and both of my team-mates were learning as well.
"There have been highlights but it’s been really difficult to keep a consistent rate of results. There were times when we left the track just as confused as when we got there which is the most frustrating thing.
"With EuroFormula we were with a really strong team and had some really good results."
Lawson finished the season impressively and rates last month’s Macau F3 GP — where he raced through the field to finish seventh on the street track regarded as very difficult to overtake on — as the racing highlight.
"We had really strong pace. It was a shame we couldn’t maximise qualifying because we had the pace to finish on the podium.
"I had to start the race from 20th but it was probably the race of the year for me as I was able to drive through the field which was cool."
Lawson is the second New Zealand driver confirmed for the 2020 Toyota Racing Series. He joins 21-year-old former BNT V8s racer Chelsea Herbert who will make her single-seater racing debut with the Giles Motorsport team.
2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series
Round 1: Highlands Park, 17-19 January
Round 2: Teretonga Park, 24-26 January
Round 3: Hampton Downs, 31 January - 2 February
Round 4: Pukekohe, 7-9 February
Round 5: Manfeild, 14-16 February (NZ Grand Prix)