Top Drivers Sign Up For Toyota Racing Series
Top Drivers Sign Up For Toyota Racing Series
Three new entries - two top New Zealand single-seater drivers and an international race driver from Iceland - will add to the excitement as the 2007-2008 Toyota Racing Series heads into its second round at Ruapuna near Christchurch in early January.
New Zealand's premier single-seater race category begins its summer of motorsport with the first of three international race meetings, the Lady Wigram Trophy at Ruapuna, January 4-6.
Confirmed entries announced this week by Series organisers are double series champion Daniel Gaunt, experienced international racer Matt Halliday and a new name on the international racing scene, 18 year old Kristjan Einar from Iceland.
With additional New Zealand and international drivers likely to confirm their entries in coming weeks, the grid for the New Zealand Grand Prix looks likely to stand between 20 and 22 cars.
Toyota Racing Series Manager Barrie Thomlinson says the new entries mean predicting an outright winner for the weekend and series leader at the end of the Lady Wigram event becomes "a bit of a lottery".
"We have two leading Kiwi drivers confirmed to do battle with the series regulars, and between Daniel and Matt there's going to be a heck of a battle. Current series leaders Andy Knight, Nic Jordan and Sam MacNeill will have to watch out for these guys."
Other racers showing potential to hit the front include Mitch Cunningham, Ben Harford and Dominic Storey, all of whom had problems at the first round that tended to mask their pace and ability.
Gaunt and Halliday are currently head to head in the New Zealand Porsche one-make series. Barrie Thomlinson says news of their entry emphasises the role played by TRS as a development series that identifies and nurtures this country's emerging racing talent.
"Daniel and Matt are keen rivals on-track and the international series gives them a unique chance to measure their speed against the next crop of quick young Kiwi racers."
He says overseas drivers also see TRS as an opportunity to gain valuable competition experience in what is traditionally the quiet season in the northern hemisphere. The full-series commitment of Australian Nathan Antunes, a former Red Bull development squad protégé of TRS graduate Brendan Hartley and this week's confirmation of Einar underline the growing international profile of the series.
"Kristjan Einar is a leading kart racer with a lot of miles under him in Formula BMW and is a recent signing to Formula Three for the respected Carlin Motorsport. He's down here to get off-season competition experience and to race unfamiliar tracks, all valuable experience heading into F3 in the UK."
Einar is the first Icelandic driver ever to race at this level in New Zealand.
Thomlinson says for TRS, the presence of international drivers will generate awareness in the northern hemisphere. The key difference between TRS and the days of Formula Pacific is the international drivers are coming here on their way up, not as established stars. They see the series as a way to hone their race-craft while their rivals are locked into on-track testing programmes in the northern hemisphere winter.
"There's no question, nine races in our summer is more valuable to an emerging driver than any number of kilometres of testing in the UK or Europe."
Einar and Halliday will be run by new team Triple X Motorsport, with Halliday confirmed for the Lady Wigram Cup and the New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild. Triple X began the season contesting the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup, and the foray into TRS is a diversification for the team which will rely heavily on Halliday's extensive international motorsport experience.
Daniel Gaunt returns to TRS with the support of Lyall Williamson's International Motorsport operation. He has little to prove in TRS, and comes to the Lady Wigram a strong favourite for an outright win.
The Toyota Racing Series has entered its fourth season with an increasingly strong field of series regulars and quick rookies.
The eight-round season started in November at Pukekohe and heats up in early January with the three-round international "series within a series": three intense weeks of motorsport starting at Ruapuna with the Lady Wigram Trophy, continuing with the 51st New Zealand Grand Prix to be held at Manfeild a week later and the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy race at the A1GP meet to be held at Taupo just a week later.
With Gaunt, Hartley, Chris van der Drift, Wade Cunningham and Shane van Gisbergen all among the leading graduates from TRS, Thomlinson says Kiwi drivers can now see a true 'stairway' in which to develop their talent - a progressive and logical apprenticeship from karting through Formula First or Formula Ford to the composite-chassis, wings and slicks Toyota Racing Series cars, and from there to Europe or the USA.
"We have top racers entering the series - champions from karting, Formula First and Formula Ford and we can now show an established track record in sending them on to greater things overseas. The series has come of age, and there's more to come."