Why the Toyota Racing Series MUST return to ‘Ruapuna’ this summer

| Photographer Credit: Terry Marshall

Right then, let’s get down to ‘brass tacks’ – the good news first!

Item # 1: The Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand (TGR-NZ) organisation announced last week that – and I quote – ‘Plans are taking shape for the 18th season of the Castrol Toyota Racing Series.

Item # 2: TGR-NZ (can) confirm the championship will begin mid-January, and;

Item # 3: will include a return to the South Island.

Item # 4: The 67th New Zealand Grand Prix will also once again be the feature event of the championship and once final discussions and planning with promoter Speed Works Events and MotorSport New Zealand have concluded, selected circuits will be confirmed.

“We are open for business for 2022 and inviting drivers at home and abroad to get their expressions of interest to us nice and early,” explained Category Manager Nicolas Caillol.

“Things are taking shape nicely and we are very much looking forward to a South Island return. The FT60 fleet is currently in preparation for the 2022 season with all cars undergoing full engine and gearbox rebuilds for what will be their third season – and second full season – of racing.

“We are also running regular test days for New Zealand and Australian drivers who are looking to take part. So, it’s all go for 2022.’

Which is all very well. But like most press releases – including the many I have written and distributed over the years – the TGR-NZ one is heavy on hyperbole, but light on actual detail.

It is indeed good news that after its severely truncated, COVID-19-dictated, North Island/Locals Only 2021 season (and doesn’t it feel like a long time ago now?) TGR-NZ is planning a return both to a full calendar, and accent on encouraging the world’s best emerging young drivers to fly down for the ultimate ‘busman’s holiday.’

However, it would be nice to know ‘which’ circuits in the South Island are on the organisation’s (not to mention promotor Speed Works and ‘national body’ MotorSport New Zealand’s) short list.

As far as circuits go, you see, the South Island has what I can only describe as ‘an embarrassment of riches’ and all too often of late one in particular – Christchurch’s Mike Pero Motorsport Park (aka ‘Ruapuna’)– and two in general (the other one being the Timaru International Motor Raceway two hours down the road at Levels) have both missed out on a round of the Castrol TRS.

Quite why this is (the case) I’ve never satisfactorily got to the bottom of; though as is usually the way with decisions of this nature I’d imagine it has absolutely nothing to do with the typical excuses/platitudes handed out via ‘press release’ at a time when a public pronouncement simply cannot be put off any longer.

Brit, F1 McLaren ace Lando Norris, holds the Ruapuna lap record for the FT-50 car (as far as the Castrol TRS is concerned) with a scintillating 1:17.06

In the past these have included issues like a claimed inability to book the track for a weekend that might suit the CTRS, and/or an inability to get agreement as to the North-South or South-North flow (thanks to the cost of crossing of Cook Strait) of meetings.

The fact that the Highlands circuit at Cromwell is now seen very much as the jewel in the crown of NZ circuits and can generally be made available at a date through the January/Feb period certainly hasn’t helped the case of the tight, narrow confines of the noise-averse Levels circuit just outside Timaru, or the flat, and largely featureless, old-skool ‘motordrome-style’ Mike Pero Motorsport layout at Ruapuna Park.

But Invercargill’s Teretonga Park suffers from the same sort of issues (in terms of track width, lack of permanent wind and rainproof pit garage complex etc. that Levels does) yet has been a virtually permanent – and usually very popular once the visiting drivers realise just how hard it is to unlock a decent time around the place – fixture on the TRS calendar since that first fledgling series – way – back now in 2005.

The fact that the Canterbury Car Club runs the facility that is Ruapuna Park as a business and has done so for some time means that it can actually pick and choose which events it runs…and conversely which events it chooses not to.

To be fair, too, when you have an increasingly popular annual mid-summer money spinner like the three-day Skope Classic meeting slap-bang in the middle (Feb 04, 05 & 06 2022) of a 5-6 weekend CTRS ‘season,’ well you can imagine how that conversation would go, can’t you?

Yet, yet, yet I for one would pay good money (a $198 Auckland-ChCh return airfare for a start) to see a full field of the new turbocharged 2-litre FT-60 single-seater racing cars running around Mike Pero Motorsport Park at some stage this summer.

And the reason why is elegantly simple. The new FT-60, you see, is finally (by all accounts anyway) a proper (serious) aero car. And (speaking strictly personally here) I can’t think of a circuit in this country – bar possibly Circuit Manfeild Chris Amon – better suited to the size, speed potential and aero grip of this F3-size CTRS single seater than Mike Pero Motorsport Park.

And I know this because?

Because I was at the track – nominally as the ‘manager ‘of the team but in reality, more of a dogsbody than anything else –   when, in December 1998, a young Scott Ronald Dixon (for it was he!) set a new ultimate race lap record for the (full 3.44km circuit) of 1:15.801 – in his Turners Auctions- backed Reynard 92D Formula Holden single-seater.

To watch Scott experiment with trying to find a workable balance between a steep-ish, high downforce race set up for when he was working his way through the constantly evolving infield, and a low-angle/low-drag setting for the three long straight sections per lap was to watch a young master on the fast track to fame.

Brit Michael Lyons, set the current SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series F5000 category lap record – a 1:17. 588 – back in 2014.

It’s always been a pleasure watching the progression of young Brit Michael Lyons, too, who set the current SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series F5000 category lap record – a 1:17. 588 – in the distinctive Eagle FA-74 his mother Judy usually drove here, back in 2014.

Another young Brit, F1 McLaren ace Lando Norris, holds the lap record for the FT-50 car (as far as the Castrol TRS is concerned) with a scintillating 1:17.06.

Sure, if we can get at least five or six keen younger drivers from overseas with ‘some’ relevant aero setup experience together to battle it out, you never know, after 24 years Scott Dixon’s ultimate race lap record could well be broken.

Main Photo: Christchurch’s Marcus Armstrong is the last winner of the Lady Wigram Trophy in 2018

See also: Time to dust off the Lady Wigram Trophy

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines contract media work with weekend Mountain Bike missions and trips to grassroots drift days.

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