The cosmopolitan mix of drivers announced so far for Toyota Racing Series suggests the competition’s big showdown at Manfeild will be an especially epic outing.
This view is expressed by the chief executive of the Feilding circuit where the series-ending New Zealand Grand Prix is hosted on February 13-14.
The most prestigious prize on the national motor-racing scene has always provided close and exciting racing, but Manfeild CEO Julie Keane says even with Toyota still to complete its driver announcements, the potential field so far has a fantastic quality.
Racers from Brazil, England, the United States, Austria, China, Canada, France, Russia and New Zealand have already confirmed they will race in the five round, 15 race series fought over consecutive weekends.
As one of just two Grand Prix outside of Formula One, the New Zealand title is always hotly contested – winning it is seen as an advantage for those chasing a motorsport career.
Mrs Keane says the NZGP has always achieved extra national and international media focus as result, but the scrutiny of the 2016 race might become extra intense given the quality and international span.
“The championship is increasingly big news; closely watched by media, team managers and talent spotters around the world.
“That’s great for our circuit, for Feilding, for Palmerston North, for our entire region. In fact, it’s just fantastic for New Zealand and we need to remind ourselves just how fortunate we are to have such a huge international event right in our backyard.
“This season reminds that TRS is of huge importance in the international sphere; it’s a quick-fire test of ability and this reflects in the next series involves several drivers being groomed as future prospects for the highest level of motor-racing.”
Specific examples are Indian racing driver Jehan Daruvula, 17, is part of the Force India Academy, the Indian backed Formula One team, the latest Ferrari Driving Academy protégé, China’s Guanyu Zhou, 15, and Canadian Delvin Defrancesco, a member of the Chip Ganassi Racing talent identification programme in North America.
The world-renowned Ganassi outfit enjoys a strong Kiwi connection with Scott Dixon; the Aucklander has won the championship four times and the Indy 500 with this team.
Zhou, meantime, is the second driver to be sent into TRS by Ferrari, following Canadian Lance Stroll, who won the 2015 series and GP and is now a test driver with Williams Formula One.
Also entered are Briton Lando Norris who two years ago, when aged 14, became the youngest ever winner of the World Karting Championship and Brazilian cousins Bruno and Rodrigo Baptista.
Returnees are Ferdinand Habsburg of Austria, Russian Artem Markelov and Pedro Piquet, the youngest son of three-time Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet.
Pedro Piquet raced here briefly in the 2014 series, but withdrew due to an issue with his racing licence. Now 17, he has won the Brazilian Formula Three Championship for the last two years and will be using the TRS series as a springboard into the FIA European Formula Three Championship.
Also confirmed are another Canadian, Kami LaLiberte, American Will Owen and Timothe Buret of France.
Christchurch racing driver James Munro, 18, heads the New Zealand involvement. The 18-year-old is seeking redemption having finished ninth overall in 2015, scoring just one podium – a second place during round two at Teretonga, Invercargill.
Mrs Keane says with domestic television coverage being subject to a week’s delayed broadcast, race fans need to be at the circuit to keep up with the action.
The NZGP weekend begins at Manfeild with the popular Friday night family programme that culminates with a great fireworks show.
The big load of support categories – Toyota Finance 86 Championship, New Zealand Touring Cars, UDC V8 Utes, the Ssangyong Race Series, Formula Ford, Formula First and Formula 5000 – means the weekend will be dedicated wholly to racing, with practice and qualifying on the Friday.
“With more racing than any other meeting in the summer series and the NZGP as well, we’re truly a fitting finale,” Mrs Keane said. “We hope race fans far and wide will recognise just what a great weekend this will be.”