World class talent on our door-step: the NZ Grand Prix preview
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The New Zealand Grand Prix could potentially be the most underrated annual event on the domestic sports calendar
Any event can slap the grand prix label on its moniker, but the NZGP is one of only two sanctioned national Grand Prix events outside of those that sit on the Formula 1 schedule. The other is the Macau Grand Prix.
Through the 1960s-80s, the NZGP lived at the core of New Zealand’s flourishing open-wheel scene. The biggest names from Formula 1, IndyCar, Can-Am and more used to migrate here during their off-season to compete at tracks such as Pukekohe Raceway, Ardmore and Wigram.
Sir Jack Brabham, Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, Keke Rosberg and Graham Hill are all former winners.
Though the motorsport landscape has since evolved, the international spirit of the NZGP lives on through the Castrol Toyota Racing Series. And this weekend at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding, another name will join the likes of Brabham, Moss, and Stewart on that trophy.
TRS turns 15 years old this year. And, for almost all those years, it’s been home to the NZGP. In recent times, the Grand Prix has been the category’s grand final, with two current Formula 1 drivers (Lance Stroll of Racing Point F1 and Lando Norris of McLaren) winning it in 2015 and 2016.
Though some focus is on the international history, it’s worth noting the 2019 season has been dominated by a pair of Kiwis; Liam Lawson and Marcus Armstrong.
On debut in TRS, Lawson stunned by winning the first race at Highlands Motorsport Park. He’s since won three other races, along the way demonstrating the same thrilling driving that netted him second in last year’s German ADAC Formula 4 series.
Armstrong, meanwhile, has arguably been more calculated. He has just as many race wins, but achieved them through consistent pace and weighted risks. It could well be the last time we see him race on our shores, as he prepares to return to the European Formula 3 circuit.
Two different ethos, and yet Lawson and Armstrong are separated in the championship standings by just five points (278 points plays 273). Ninety points are on offer over this weekend’s races, with the difference between finishing first and second in the feature races being worth four points.
After a tough return to the series, recent form has seen Mercedes-Benz and Redbull-backed driver Lucas Auer jump to third in the standings, and he can technically still threaten for the title. British driver Raoul Hyman and Belgium’s Esteban Muth can also claim to be theoretical contenders, while Brendon Leitch, the third of the Kiwis, sits sixth.
And this weekend, there’s set to be a fourth New Zealander on the grid; Kenny Smith. The 77-year-old three-time NZGP winner will make a cameo appearance in the series, racing against teenagers a fraction of his age.
Practice at Manfeild kicks off tomorrow. Race one takes place on Saturday afternoon, with race two and the NZGP on Sunday. The BNT V8s, Toyota 86 Series, Pirelli Porsches and more are among the support categories.
Tune in to Driven.co.nz for live streaming across the weekend.