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Fierce competition for New Zealand Grand Prix

Fierce competition for New Zealand Grand Prix

The New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild on Sunday will be the most competitive for many years, with at least seven drivers fast enough to vie for the prestigious trophy.

The Grand Prix will be the third of the three Toyota Racing Series races over the weekend and is likely to decide the winner of that championship, adding extra tension to the event.

The entry of 22 of the wings-and-slicks racers is the biggest for a very long time, and includes several young racers who can be expected to shine in international racing in the years to come – like Russian Daniil Kvyat, who raced in the TRS two years ago and now joins the Toro Rosso Formula One team.

The meeting will be by far the biggest domestic motorsport event this year. As well as the TRS it features MotorSport New Zealand championship races for NZV8 Touring Cars, Toyota Finance 86 coupes and NZ Formula Ford, plus the BNT V8 SuperTourers.

Singapore driver Andrew Tang goes into the final weekend with a seven-point lead in the TRS championship and the GP will have extra significance for him as it could be his last race for two years – he is due to start his compulsory military service after it.

Just seven points behind Tang is British driver Jann Mardenborough, who has also been both fast and consistent. Third is Russian driver Egor Orudzhev who is fast and fearless, especially in the wet, but less consistent than the first two.

Invercargill racer Damon Leitch stands fourth in the series but still well within striking distance of the top, such is the competitiveness of the championship.

“It’s real close,” Leitch said. “I think that so long as we get a real good go this weekend we should be able to move up a couple of places.

“I’ll just do my best and see what happens. Qualifying is going to be real important this weekend.”

Of course the Grand Prix, which has more than 60 years of history and has been won by Formula One world champions, is an extra incentive for drivers to push their cars to the maximum.

“It would be great to win that, it’s a big race and a prestigious trophy,” Leitch said. “It’s the first proper GP, recognised by the FIA [the international motorsport body], for this calendar year so that’s quite cool.

“The GP is longer than the other races, 35 laps, but it’s still going to be a sprint race – a long one.”

Two fast drivers who have lost points through bad luck, Estonian Martin Rump and Dutchman Steijn Schothorst, will see the GP as an opportunity to finish the championship with a flourish, even if they are probably out of contention for the series title. Rump is fifth and Schothorst seventh, but both have won races already.

Christchurch rookie James Munro, 17, is sixth and has one victory to his credit. If he can qualify well he will also be in with a chance of Grand Prix glory.

In NZV8 Touring Cars, Australian Jason Bargwanna (Toyota Camry) is trying to overhaul the points lead of Cambridge driver Nick Ross (Holden Commodore) in the TLX category for new cars.

The TL category is close at the top with James McLaughlin (Lower Hutt, Holden), Ian Booth (Hamilton, Holden), Grant Molloy (Invercargill, Ford) and Brock Cooley (Wellington, Ford) all within 36 points of one another, where a win earns 75 points.

The new championship for the Toyota TR 86 coupes is likely to see more battles between TRS graduates Andrew Waite (Auckland) and Jamie McNee (Wellington), as at Hampton Downs last weekend. However Waite is not contesting the full championship so series leader McNee does not have to worry too much about beating his rival.

Invercargill racer Jamie Conroy won the first nine races of the NZ Formula Ford championship but, hampered by a mysterious engine problem, could manage only one victory at Hampton Downs. Wanganui rookie Aaron Marr showed he was a fast learner as he won one race there, and Michael Collins from Christchurch is always in contention at the front.


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