The inaugural Toyota Racing Series finally got underway in January 2005 at the Timaru International Raceway. Eighteen drivers took to the grid for the first of six rounds with three in the South and three in the North Island.
The previous season Toyota NZ had brought over from Japan a ‘Formula Toyota’ car, much like a USF2000 single seater. In other words similar to a Formula Ford but with wings. The concept wasn’t readily accepted so they went away and came back with the FT40 single seater with a Tatuus chassis. Similar to the Formula Renault 2.0 litre, but much better looking.
In the first season of TRS there was just one international driver, Walter Grubmuller from Monaco. He only stayed for the first three rounds in January which were run over consecutive weekends.
The other 17 aspiring drivers were all Kiwis including Wade Cunninham (2003 World Kartsport Champion), Ken Smith (1976, 1990, 2004 NZ Grand Prix winner), Brendon Hartley (future WEC World Champion, Le Mans winner and F1 driver), Fiona Hamilton, first female TRS driver, Chris Pither (future Supercars driver), and future TRS title winners Daniel Gaunt and Andy Knight. Also in the field was Brent Collins from South Canterbury who would put his car on pole for the opening race and go on to win four of the 18-races and the inaugural Toyota Racing Series title.
Looking back, it appeared that few of the teams really knew what they were doing with car setup as Collins explains:
“It was myself and a couple of mates from Timaru – John Palmer (JP) and Mark Brown (Brownie) and Paul Sheddan (Ronnie), that ran the car that season. None of us had any knowledge of running a ‘wings n slicks’ single seater.
“After the first test day at Ruapuna (Christchurch) leading up to the opening round, we went to the pub and had a yarn about it. Here was I thinking I had spent a lot of money on nothing. The car was so difficult to drive even though I was fourth quickest that day. It turned out that basically we had got our initial setup completely wrong. What was on the back should have been on the front and vice versa.”
Most teams were similar to Collins, one car with family/friends/mates helping out.
“My background in motorsport had been in club and Pre-65 racing where for two years I competed with Jim Little’s AP5 318 V8 Valiant, with approx 450hp and only on road tyres. Then I did RX7 racing and won two NZ champs (Series 1).
“In 2000 I won the South Island Formula Ford 1600 Championship and then did the national champs but didn’t go that well due to engine problems.
“I didn’t do much after that but then bought an old Subaru Vortex rally car and won the 2004 NZ Hill Climb champs.
“At the prize giving Barry Thomlinson (TRS Category Manager) hit me up and invited me to the TRS launch in early October 2004. The car was so spectacular and I wanted in. It all happened very quickly so was a matter of getting a package together before the first round three months later.
While Collins was fastest in the first qualifying session of the opening round, it was Brendon Hartley who would go on to win the opening race in the wet.
“I was on the wet line for Race 1 so Hartley got the jump on me. I hit a puddle and lit up the back wheels and he got the lead.
“Not a lot of people really knew how to operate these cars but by the end of the season they were fast catching up to me.
“We were winging it and essentially I was driving by the seat of my pants. It was handy enough to get us through the season and win the title.”
Collins won the opening and fourth (Manfeild) rounds while Chris Pither won the second at Teretonga. Matthew Hamilton took the third at his home track in Christchurch with Andy Knight winning the penultimate round, again at Manfeild. Gaunt won the final Pukekohe V8 Supercars round and was on a roll from then on, going on to win the title in 2005/06 and 2006/07.
The 2005 inaugural series was quite a success for Toyota Racing. Managing 18 brand-new single seaters, drivers and teams while also hosting guests and sponsors was quite an undertaking, especially with the first three rounds held over consecutive weekends in the South Island. There were teething problems with engines, starter motors and wiring looms and the weather didn’t initially play ball, but nothing major that in anyway threatened to curtail the racing.
That was the foundation year for what has become New Zealand’s most successful motorsport series which now has global recognition and respect.
2005 Toyota Racing Series Drivers’ Standings
1 Brent Collins 942
2 Andy Knight 904
3 Daniel Gaunt 874
4 Brendon Hartley 861
5 Chris Pither 782
6 Matthew Hamilton 755
7 Ben Harford 748
8 James Cressey 601
9 Wade Cunningham 589
10 Ben Crighton 563
11 Ken Smith 493
12 Tim Edgell 475
13 Kim Crocker 468
14 Fiona Hamilton 398
15 Duane Spurdle 367
16 Mark Munro 221
17 Andrew Higgins 220
18 Walter Grubmuller 200
2005 TRS Calendar
Round 1 – Timaru International Motor Raceway (Timaru, Canterbury) 8-9 January 2005
Round 2 – Teretonga Park (Invercargill, Southland) 15-16 January 2005
Round 3 – Powerbuilt Raceway at Ruapuna Park (Christchurch, Canterbury) 22-23 JAnuary 2005
Round 4 – Manfeild Autocourse (Feilding, Manawatu District) 19-20 Feb 2005
Round 5 – Manfeild Autocourse 2-3 April 2005
Round 6 – Pukekohe Park Raceway (Pukekohe, Auckland Region) 16-17 April 2005