Auckland student Jacob Smith heads for Christchurch next week as the top ‘rookie’ driver in the Toyota Finance 86 Championship, New Zealand’s leading single-make ‘tin-top‘ racing series.
After two rounds of the championship Smith, 16, is sixth overall with 232 points and two places clear of Christchurch’s Ryan Yardley, who is second in the rookie standings.
In every race the rookies face experienced single-make drivers including Aucklanders Ash Blewett (series leader on 450 points), Callum Quin (second outright on 382 points) and leading masters driver John Penny (third on points with 356). The ‘home-circuit’ advantage is also likely to work in favour of experienced local Matthew Hamilton, who is currently fourth.
Glendowie resident Smith has taken the classic path to a motor racing career, starting in karts at age 8. Titles and race wins in numerous classes followed, and Smith rates winning the 2008 Castrol Tauranga Street Race as a highlight along with Top Half series titles in the Junior Restricted and Junior Yamaha classes.
Smith steps up to the Toyota 86 championship from several seasons of racing in Formula First. He won an AMP National Scholarship and the Scorpion Racecars Programme of Excellence three years ago and was selected to run with the Scorpion team in the New Zealand Formula First Championship at the age of 13.
He has been a keen follower of Toyota’s championships over the past few years and is well known in pit lane, an enthusiastic presence at previous Toyota Racing Series and Toyota Finance 86 Championship rounds in between his own racing commitments. His focus is to improve his speed and racecraft through the 2015-2016 Toyota 86 series with the long term goal of heading overseas to race.
The championship is a balancing act requiring the young driver to juggle his commitments on track with his schooling, while working to secure additional sponsorship and support to keep the team competitive over coming ‘away’ rounds of the championship.
Smith has just completed his NCEA level 2 exams and is now helping teams complete their race cars for the coming Toyota Racing Series: “it’s just a great way to stay around motor racing”.
Smith and his family are chasing down additional sponsor support to help with the cost of competing in the Christchurch and Invercargill rounds.
“The Pukekohe and Hampton Downs rounds were pretty intense, but there is an additional pressure to do well in the southern rounds because I haven’t been to Ruapuna or Teretonga before. I have been studying the circuits using a simulator to prepare myself. Going south will be a big hit on our budget so we are working to find new sponsors to get us there in competitive form,” he said.
Being top rookie after two rounds has been a confidence booster.
“Now I’m determined to continue my strong results in New Zealand’s leading single make series,” he said.
With a record entry of 18 drivers, the third year of the Championship is shaping up to be the most fiercely contested yet. The championship is televised on SKY and TV3 with coverage of each round screening a week after race weekend.