TCR NZ: So many questions

The statement, when it came, raised far more questions than it answered. TCR, the biggest thing in tin-top circuit racing, would no longer join the Toyota Racing Series as a premier category on this summer’s motor racing series, a blistering five rounds in five weeks whirlwind tour of the north and south.

It would instead be postponed until late 2020 – probably September, and run through to February. The ninth month is a period where no major motor race meetings happen. The weather can be pretty rubbish too.

The original calendar had been hailed by Australian Racing Group – which holds the rights to the category, as giving the best chance for the two sister series to run without date clashes.

With confirmation of the calendar change, the championship will now consist of seven rounds over five months.

The reason given was that overseas competitors were struggling to make the logistics of getting cars, spares, tools and crew into (and possibly out of) New Zealand in a timely manner.

It’s a month and a half until the opening round, where now the resurgent Castrol Toyota Racing Series will take top billing. Our local V8s, which had started to look like a club category with their out of date sheet-metal and mainly ‘personal’ sponsorships, had turned a shade of grey in the shadow cast by TCR. That is likely to continue but raises the question of which category can legitimately claim to be level-pegging or number two up against a TRS that by all reports has two Kiwis, 18 others, and a waiting list from around the world?

#5 Gene Rollinson/ Rhys Gould Hyundai i30N TCR competing in the 2019 SI Endurance Series (Photo: Euan Cameron Photography)

Across the Tasman, TCR has a year head start on us and has already seen as a lot of crash and bash as drivers from a wide range of categories settled into the refined demands of European touring car motorsport.

The launch of the category here saw manager Grant Smith and ARG director Matt Braid front a media conference at the annual CRC Speed Show in July to reveal a multi-year deal to race TCR in New Zealand. The deal was foreshadowed by an announcement during Round 2 of TCR Australia at Phillip Island with global TCR boss Marcello Lotti present.

Motorsport New Zealand bought the licence to run TCR here.

The TV deal would be live on SKY, the first time we’ve had live motor racing in years. Contracts were signed, deposits paid, freelancers employed to fill key positions. Local teams began bringing cars into the country and even embarking on multi-car new –builds.

Kia would have two cars. Audi at least three. Hyundai up to two i30Ns, one driven by Hayden Paddon. Other teams already had cars in-country and were racing them in endurance events on the circuits the TCR will (would have) run on.

All-up, Grant Smith was expecting up to 12 and as many as 14 cars here. Coming from overseas, according to ARG, was a similar number of cars, mainly from the (rather biff’n’bash) Aussie championship. There was the hint also that TCR’s global nature could draw drivers and even teams from the USA, Europe and UK, all drawn by TCR’s top billing, championship status and the chance to spend five weeks racing in New Zealand rather than the same time sitting in the gym or on a sim.

#28 Jordan Michels Honda Civic Type R TCR

Actually, the questions were being asked up to a month ago by media commentators, mostly those making extensive use of social media.

The rumours began to flow when the communication stopped – updates were non-existent and media chasing updates were going without. The shaky and sketchy rumours became more credible last week when Grant Smith went to a meet in Aussie to firm up details and instead came home with a media release announcing TCR would not happen in January.

Prospective drivers and team managers tell me they had been concerned for some time and when the info tap was turned off they expected – feared – the worst. Their biggest question now is how the championship can fight back to a new launch date. I also know that the teams were worried about the cost and inconvenience of doing five weeks on the trot – having done that for a couple of years I can attest it’s no game of tiddlywinks.

So, the questions:

1: Will the SKY live package still happen?

2. What will fill the gap left by TCR?

3. What does this mean for the SKY-Speedworks contract?

4. ARG is also behind the S5000 single-seater spec car category, and has committed to placing a grid of 20 cars at the Australian Grand Prix – did the cost of that undertaking stub out any chance of New Zealand getting TCR off the ground?

5. What happens to all the mechanics and engineers employed with the expectation of going TCR racing this summer? There are people who have stepped away from mainstream automotive industry jobs to work on TCR teams.

6. How much of its TCR licence fee will MotorSport NZ get back?

7. What does this mean for the race programme at each round?

8. 2021 – will the TCR series include southern rounds – at all?

9. What will a delay mean for the following summer series – will TCR dipping in and out affect spectator numbers at specific rounds?

10. How fast does evolution happen when TCR is also the World Touring Car Championship category? Cars now in New Zealand can be raced in our endurance series and in Speedworks’ non-championship Rush Hour all-comers’ events, but will those cars still be the cat’s whiskers by the end of next year?

Mark Baker

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

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