Lawson shines bright

The Castrol Toyota Racing Series has confirmed its worst kept secret – the commitment of quick Pukekohe teen Liam Lawson to the 2019 championship.

He is the first New Zealand driver to sign up and does so as the traditional ‘busy season’ for driver signings enters its final fortnight.

Announcing his drive to media gathered at the Giltrap auto empire in downtown Auckland on Wednesday, Lawson will race with champion team M2.

None of which will surprise anyone who follows the series, as it was all set in place at the start of the year. In fact he’s been a constant presence around anything to do with Toyota in motor racing for ages.

He effortlessly won the Toyota 86 CareVets scholarship for the 2017-2018 summer but his backers were reluctant to see him diverted from his single-seater goal.

Too young by a matter of weeks for TRS 2018, Liam sat out that series, a frustrated but stoic spectator, especially at the Grand Prix – the day of his 16th birthday!

The 16 year old’s progress is certainly causing a stir among the cognoscenti (yep, it’s Italian for ‘those in the know’): three wins from three pole-position starts at Malaysia’s Sepang circuit this month driving the Asian F3 championship in a halo car; second in German ADAC F4 Champion; second in Aussie F4 in 2017 when the late season races escaped his grasp after season-long dominance.

Liam knows how to win races, and he attacks the track like few of his peers. Wet or dry, it doesn’t seem to matter. Easy to think that crucial first title is within reach, though winning TRS on first attempt is a big ask for any driver. Uncertainty clouds the composition of the final grid, with Liam the sixth to announce his intentions, all European championships decided, Macau Grand Prix over and done with and only four weeks left in the traditional announcement period.

Grids for the series allow up to 20 cars; currently organisers will only say they have 18 drivers confirmed. Watch the daily newspapers and the championship website closely over coming weeks for first news of the 12-14 remaining drives.

One of the hardest things for Liam in 2019 will be choosing the right ‘next step’. He needs to race a halo car after TRS, simply to get more experience ignoring the obstructive ‘jandal strap’ sitting in his field of vision. He must choose between Europe and the USA to get the intensity of competition he needs to hone his natural talent.

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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