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New Entries Raise Stakes In Toyota Racing Series

New entries raise the stakes in Toyota Racing Series

Christchurch driver Andy Knight has his work cut out to stay in front as the Toyota Racing Series heads south to Ruapuna this weekend.

The Lady Wigram Trophy, round two of the 2008 Toyota Racing Series, caps an action-packed Sunday of motorsport at the 3.44 km Powerbuilt Tools Ruapuna Raceway near Christchurch. The weekend kicks off New Zealand's "summer of motorsport": three solid weekends of motor racing that will bring the TRS racers from Christchurch to Palmerston North and then to Taupo.

In addition to fending off the close attentions of second-placed Nic Jordan over the course of Saturday's qualifying sessions and the three TRS races on Sunday, Knight also faces the return of defending Lady Wigram Trophy and series champion Daniel Gaunt along with three other new entries to the 2008 series.

Joining Gaunt - and arguably the most experienced TRS rookie to ever arrive on a grid - is Matt Halliday. Halliday is one of New Zealand's most experienced racing drivers with an extensive international single-seater career. Halliday and Gaunt are currently locked in battle for the Battery Town Porsche GT3 one-make series and will continue their rivalry in the Toyotas this weekend.

Knight has his eyes firmly on the series title and on making the most of his first-round points advantage.

"It would be good to extend that lead. It would be great to get another three in a row but it will be tougher with Daniel Gaunt and Matthew Halliday there this time. However if we get it right there is no reason why we can't," says Knight.

Gaunt will also be racing against his step-brother for the first time ever: speedway midget champion Michael Pickens has signed up to race the international rounds of the series. It's a steep learning curve for the talented Aucklander. He will be notching up a series of career firsts, including first standing start, first race on tarmac, first race driven using a clutch and gearbox. Midget cars are direct-drive and have no clutch. They use steel tube space-frame chassis where the TRS Tatuus cars are carbon-fibre composite.

Making the longest trip ever to race in TRS is another rookie, Kristján Einar of Iceland. An experienced kart racer, he has just been signed to the Carlin Formula Three operation in the UK, which will also run TRS graduate Brendon Hartley this year.

The final addition to the TRS grid is another Christchurch driver, Matthew Hamilton. In 2006 Hamilton was the first TRS driver ever to win all three races at a round - and that included the Lady Wigram Trophy. Last season he did a limited programme, contesting only Pukekohe and Invercargill but still finished second in the NZGP when it was held for the last time at Invercargill's Teretonga Raceway. He currently holds a National karting title and regularly competes in karting up to national level.

The Lady Wigram Trophy is one of the oldest and most prestigious in New Zealand motorsport, and has been a part of the local scene for almost 50 years. It was first raced in 1949, and won in that year by Morrie Proctor, driving a Riley 9.

The original course was laid out at the RNZAF Wigram airbase after local Police threatened legal action if the race was held on the street circuit proposed by organisers. It was marked out with hay bales, and included a 1.3 km straight in its 3 km course. Ruapuna, the venue for the race this weekend, is only slightly longer at 3.3km.

The Lady Wigram Trophy has been won by some of the world's most famous drivers - Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart, and more recently Craig Baird, Paul Radisich and Ken Smith who won the race in 1976 and 1991 and will line up on the grid again this weekend.

Defending Toyota Racing Series champion Daniel Gaunt's name appears on the trophy twice. He won it in 2004 and again last year, and he's back in the series this year aiming to score his third Wigram title.

Gaunt, 22, is a two-times TRS champion, the winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix last year, and holder of the Toyota Racing Series lap record for Ruapuna, a 1.20.081 set in 2005. He set the lap record on his way to his first ever TRS victory, the third race of the weekend. His record stands as the fastest set by any category currently active in Tier One or Tier Two motor racing in New Zealand.

The Lady Wigram Trophy was not raced from 1993 to 2004. It had been withdrawn from active competition in 2004 by its custodians, the Motor Racing Club and was then released to the Toyota Racing Series for competition in 2006, in which year it was won by Matthew Hamilton.

The Lady Wigram Trophy goes "green" in 2008. The Toyota Racing Series has switched to an E85 ethanol-petrol biofuel made from whey, a by-product of the dairy industry. This significantly reduces its carbon "footprint" and exhaust emissions as part of Toyota's commitment to reducing carbon emissions across all its business operations here and around the world.

The Lady Wigram Trophy is only the second premier New Zealand title to be raced by cars using biofuel, the New Zealand Motorcup won by Andy Knight at the first TRS round of the series in November being the other.

The weekend after the Lady Wigram Trophy, New Zealand hosts the world's first ever biofuel Grand Prix at Manfeild near Palmerston North.


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