Ten things we have learned from the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series

| Photographer Credit: Euan Cameron Photography

1/ Have we just witnessed two future F1 drivers or even F1 champions battling it out in NZ?

Will we look back to the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series and be able to say ‘I was there and remember…..’? The rivalry between winner Igor Fraga and runner up Liam Lawson has been superb right down to the final race of the series. They have been head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the TRS field and it just got better as we progressed through the five rounds.

2/ Toyota made the right decisions at the right time

Toyota GAZOO Racing NZ’s decision to drop the FT50 car and move to the latest FIA F3 type chassis was bang on. The decision was made early to keep the series relevant by producing the FT60 chassis with the halo safety system. They have made good decisions to get the right chassis, motor, tyre and overall package. It has worked from the get-go which is indicative of all the behind the scenes hard work that has gone into making it a successful season.

3/ Has this been one of the most competitive TRS seasons?

If you want to compete in the 2021 Castrol Toyota Racing Series, then you better get your entry in early. This series was on-song right from the beginning and said to the world ‘We are here!’ Lawson and Fraga will now head to Europe and the FIA Formula 3 Championship ready to race. No doubt there will be some FIA F3 drivers back in Europe on their racing simulators who may now regret not coming down under. Such is the success it will have woken up drivers and teams to the reality that this is the best ‘winter’ preparation for the Northern Hemisphere racing series.

Qualifying has been the closest of all the TRS seasons with 8/10ths often covering the field. In qualifying for the NZ Grand Prix, the top five were within 0.062 seconds of each other.

It has been a matter of finding that extra 1/10th and no longer that extra half second.

4/ Franco Colapinto is a star in the making

The Argentinian is just 16 years-old and is the current Spanish Formula 4 Champion. He finished third overall in the TRS and will be one to watch in the future. While initally he was slow to gather points and podiums, this young man stood on the podium in each of the last six races and has talent to boot.

5/ Some drivers just didn’t fire!

Yuki Tsunonda seemed troubled all through the five rounds. The Red Bull Junior Honda driver is heading to Formula 2 this season and this summer ventured down into Toyota territory. While he made some impressive over taking moves he hasn’t fired all summer. He won the second race at the opening round at Highlands Motorsport Park but he did start from pole after the marble draw. In saying that he gathered enough points to finish fourth overall.

Lirim Zendeli was a darling in the German ADAC F4 champs in 2018 beating Liam Lawson who finished runner up. He didn’t fire last year in the 2019 FIA F3 (finishing 18th) and didn’t figure this season in TRS.

Spike Kohlbecker Photo: Terry Marshall

5/ Hard work pays off.

Ask Spike Kohlbecker about it. He was first to admit he was almost out of his depth at the beginning of the series. It was his first wings and slicks category and the jump from Formula Ford was almost too far and too hard. He languished in the bottom half of the field for the first four rounds but could always see the bigger picture. He was here for the challenge and to learn and did just that. Boom, he qualified third fastest on Saturday morning at the NZ Grand Prix meeting at Circuit Chris Amon Manfeild and then followed that up by qualifying fifth for the Grand Prix. He was never out of the top ten in all three races at the NZGP weekend.

6/ MotorSport NZ should stop issuing permits for multiple events on the same weekend.

People vote with their feet and it was evident this summer. Why did we have a major club event at Timaru International Raceway 350km up the road from the Speed Works event at Teretonga Park, Invercargill on the same weekend in January? Timaru drew the crowds (was it the Super Trucks, the Central Muscle Cars, the Historic Touring Cars or the combination?) while Invercargill gave us one of their poorest turnouts for many years. The excuse that ‘We can’t tell clubs what to do’ just doesn’t cut-the-mustard.

The categories at Invercargill were skinny and without the Timaru event, their key draw-cards could well have been on display in support of the second TRS round.

A large crowd gathered at Timaru International Raceway, the same weekend as the Speed Works meeting down the road at Teretonga in Invercargill

7/ Live TV is the way to go.

Much of the feed back from those that cannot get to the track is that the SkySport TV coverage has been world class. Not only has the race coverage been great but we have introduced personalities into the package. Fans are seeing and hearing from both the drivers and people involved in the race meetings. Jonathan Green, Steve McIvor, Mike Lightfoot and Clint Brown have brought the racing alive.

Did the TV coverage get the right promotion, particularly from SKY? If we have found a key ingredient for the future, we need to make it even better and let people know that it is on.

8/ Let’s get rid of the riff-raff

At the NZ Grand Prix meeting we had categories competing that have lost their relevance to such an important event and we were missing those that should have been there. OK, they paid the money but with live TV coverage available around the globe, we should be putting Kiwi motorsport up on a pedestal for the world to see.

If the Toyota Racing Series is the pinnacle of NZ single seater racing, then we need not just the national Formula Ford but also the Formula First categories there. While we are at it, why not have the F5000 Tasman Revival Series as well. The F5000 are a crowd favourite and a reminder of the great Tasman Series days when F1 drivers spent their summer down under.

9/ The jump from Formula Ford to TRS just got bigger

While you’re asking Spike Kohlbecker about how hard work pays off, get him to tell you about how big a step it is up to TRS. The US driver competed here in Formula Ford last summer before heading to the UK for more of the same. The FT60 is a bigger and more physical car than the previous FT50 chassis that TRS used for the last five summers.

Even some team owners are suggesting that a Formula Ford driver wanting to do TRS should either compete in Formula 4 or spend as much time as possible testing a FT50.

This raises several questions for the administrators of the Kiwi Driver Fund which is set up to help find the next Kiwi world F1 champion, by giving financial assistance to compete in TRS. Will the up and coming Formula Ford need extra direction and assistance to make that step up? Current Formula Ford competitor Billy Fraserhas his sights on the 2021 TRS grid so we will watch with interest how he makes the jump.

10/ There’s no reason why Liam Lawson shouldn’t be on the 2021 grid.

I can’t think of a reason why he shouldn’t compete for a third time in the TRS. Win or lose we love to see him competing here in NZ and he is a crowd favourite. Come to think of it, why wasn’t Marcus Armstrong here this summer?

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits both talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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