It’s been a tough five weeks for rookie US driver Spike Kohlbecker in the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series (TRS). Having competed for several seasons in Formula Ford including in the 2018/19 NZ Formula Ford Championship, he made the jump into wings and slicks and entered the five round TRS.
At the opening round at Highlands Motorsport Park, Kohlbecker could have been described as being in a state of shock. Five weeks later Talkmotorsport sat down with him to find out where he is at now.
“At the beginning, I was not the same driver that I am now,” commented Kohlbecker. Through all the hard work, it is difficult to comprehend the improvement that I have made personally.”
It was a struggle for him to get to grips with the much bigger chassis, the speed, the high level of grip and the aerodynamics. And this would have been one of the most competitive seasons.
“It is such a difficult series. Like today’s (Sunday’s) qualifying. I was 600ths off (fastest time) and I was fifth place. That’s four cars between me and pole. The difference is less than a breath.
“It has been a great and a difficult experience at the same time. But in saying that, I have definitely enjoyed it.
“Coming into the series I didn’t know how difficult it would be. I was going into the unknown but I was very confident.
“The first weekend just shocked me how much I had to learn at the beginning of the season.”
Through the first four rounds he continued to make improvements.
“The hardest point was mid-season. You’re making improvements and getting closer to that top ten but you don’t move up on the time charts because everyone else is also getting better and getting honed it. It is the most frustrating experience.”
And that is what happens each season. Everyone continues to improve. What Kohlbecker did was to show that improvement with some solid results at the last round, the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Circuit Chris Amon Manfeild in Feilding.
“The highlight, most definitely was getting third in Saturdays qualifying. Just the improvement that I made and the unbelievable support particularly from back home, I can’t thank them and the sponsors enough. It’s not been possible without them.”
In the first race of the final round he finished in fifth place, his best result of the series. He went on to back up a solid Saturday’s performance in Sunday’s racing.
“I’m much more proud of the second qualifying session on Sunday morning, being 600ths off pole. Even though I qualified fifth.”
In the second race of the weekend he finished a solid tenth and then went on to finish seventh in the 35-lap NZ Grand Prix. This gave him enough points to place 13th overall for the season.
“It definitely gives me confidence for the coming season. I’ve just got confidence in the car and the series has finished. I feel that I could get a podium but the season is over.”
With qualifying proving to be so close, how do you find that extra tenth?
“It is a matter of getting up to speed quickly. But I was not coming into the championship with that speed.
“Now I am able to sit down with my engineer (George) and listen to what he has to say. Towards the end of the series I listened to him and I hit my marks. He knew what I needed to do. I knew what I needed to do but it is easier said than done. We were getting it done this weekend.
“The aim was to get up to speed quicker rather than playing catch up over the weekend. This time we were on it right from the start. Previously I haven’t been able to do this because I haven’t had the confidence in the car. This weekend I did and I went out and hit it right away.
“The experience has been wonderful. The five weeks has been the best time in my life. Blood sweat and tears. The confidence going forward is going to be so beneficial”
And what of the future, the rest of 2020?
“We’ll have something to announce shortly but I’ll first head home to catch up on family and friends and some R and R.”
And to cap off a great TRS season, Kohlbecker was awarded ‘Most Improved Driver’ by Toyota GAZOO Racing New Zealand.