Motorsport: Teen enters single seater fast lane

By Colin Smith

Pongakawa teenager Michael Scott will make the step up to New Zealand's premier single-seater motor racing category next month.

Scott, who turned 18 this month and has just completed his final year at Te Puke High School, is one of only two New Zealand drivers so far to confirm an entry against a strong international contingent in the Toyota Racing Series.

The series starts at Teretonga near Invercargill on January 12-13 and is the next rung on the motor racing ladder for Scott who began his career racing karts at the local Te Puke and Edgecumbe tracks from age 11.

Last summer was his most successful, finishing runner-up and top rookie in the New Zealand Formula Championship and also winning the annual one hour Formula First Grand Prix at Manfeild.

"I could have gone back to Formula Ford again but I felt I was ready to step up," said Scott, who will begin a mechanical engineering degree at Canterbury University next year.

"TRS is the best benchmark of how you compare with drivers from overseas.

The cars are equal, the engines get balloted to make sure it's a level playing field and it's all down to your ability to drive and set-up the car."

A number of deals are still being finalised but the five-round TRS series over five consecutive weekends and culminating with the NZ Grand Prix at Manfeild on February 10 already has confirmed entries from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Norway, Thailand, Malaysia and Brazil.

The profile of the series has been boosted with a TV package that will screen the racing in Europe, the UK and Australia.

The only other Kiwis confirmed so far are defending TRS champ Nick Cassidy (Auckland) and Damon Leitch of Southland. Leitch will be a team-mate to Scott in a three or four car squad fielded by Nelson-based Victory Motorsport.

"I'm looking at TRS as a two year programme," says Scott.

"My goal this season is to be the top rookie and to make the top five or six. I'm up against much more experienced drivers and some of them are competing in TRS for the second time after a full season of Formula Renault in Europe.

"My advantage is that some of them have come straight out of karts into Renaults or other 'wings and slicks' cars. I've had two and a half years driving Formula First and Formula Ford cars which teach you good racecraft.

"So while it's a big step I would say the step between Formula First and Formula Ford was just as big."

Since the Formula Ford series wrapped up Scott has contested four rounds of the Victoria State Formula Ford Champs in Australia and completed five days testing a Formula Renault car at three different circuits.

Testing in the TRS cars is restricted to official days but several Formula Renault cars have made their way to New Zealand for driver training. They use a similar chassis also manufactured by Tatuus in Italy with a 2.0-litre Renault engine that has about 30hp less than the TRS racer.

"With the testing I've done and four rounds in Australia I feel I am race fit," says Scott.

"My goal is to be tidy and consistent. I finished every race in Formula Ford last year with my worst placing being fourth. I also finished all of my races in Australia and I want to continue like that."

The other advantage Scott has is the knowledge he gained by attending Motorsport NZ's Elite Academy programme in Dunedin during July.

"Driver's from other countries wish they had something like our academy. It was a fantastic experience," says Scott.

"You do simulator and stress tests and it teach you about fitness, nutrition and media work - pretty much everything that can help you."

Having played First XI hockey for Te Puke High School, Scott says his cardio fitness was at a good level but the academy identified the need to build strength and since then he's added gym work to prepare for the season ahead.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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