Arguably this season we are seeing a delineation of the current career path for young Kiwi motorsport drivers moving up the ladder from kartsport.
It appears that many drivers making the jump from kartsport to circuit racing are deciding on either tin-tops or single seaters, the TR86 Championship or the NZ Formula 1600 Championship.
Traditionally the path has been from kartsport to Formula 1600 (previously Formula Ford), then onto either the Toyota Racing Series or a class such as TR86, Utes, Porsche, Pro 7 Mazda then BNT V8s, Carrera Cup and so on.
This season marks a jump from kartsport to TR86 by a reasonable number of rookie drivers, by-passing Formula 1600.
It is not as though either category has excelled in grid numbers at the expense of the other, with both having very strong numbers on the grid. Seventeen drivers lined up for the opening TR86 Championship round at Pukekohe last weekend while 24 drivers will be at Timaru Internatinoal Raceway this weekend for the opening round of the NZ F1600 Championship.
Each category has advantages. Formula 1600 offers the traditional and proven approach of learning racecraft. NZ title holders include Supercars drivers Fabian Coulthard (2001/02), Shane van Gisbergen (2005/06), Richie Stanaway (2008/09) and Andre Heimgartner (2010/11 and 2011/12) (pictured above – Taupo 2011).
TR86 has the marketing power of Toyota behind it and some significant prizes for both overall winner and leading rookie to compete in Australia. It is a controlled category, the racing is close and skills will no doubt develop.
It will be interesting to see what talent stands out this season in both categories. Three of the current 17 TR86 drivers come from a single seater background with Callum Hedge, winner of the 2017/18 NZ F1600 title, and both Kaleb Ngatoa and Arran Crighton coming from time competing in Formula First.
It is also to be noted that three of the previous five TR86 title winners have competed in F1600 – Jamie McNee (2013/14), Tom Alexander (2014/15) and Ryan Yardley (2016/17).
Whether one path serves a young driver better is not for this writer to decide but for the more experienced to offer an opinion on the topic. Certainly in the future with hindsight we can measure the worth of both.
To close, arguably one of our finest and most experienced single seater driver Ken Smith offers this advice on the careerracing.co.nz website”
“Formula Ford is a great class and it is the class that kids getting out of karting need to be doing. If they want to make progress, even to drive V8s or anything like that you need to be doing open wheel racing….They have to drive one of these cars to get themselves in gear to go and drive anything else. Even around the world, if they want to go to Europe, do Formula Ford first.”