Motorsport: Young guns have a shot at world stage in series

The Toyota Racing Series is one of only two FIA Grand Prix outside Formula One, yet it was created in New Zealand purely to foster young driving talent.

Funded by Toyota New Zealand, it introduces drivers to a competitive open-wheeled "wings and slicks" format in which all the cars are identical, with only suspension tuning and wing angle changes allowed.

The aim is to keep costs pinned, and to give drivers a level playing field.

The carbon fibre chassis are built in Italy to carry an all-aluminium 1.8-litre Toyota 2ZZ-GE engine running on 85-15 ethanol-petrol blend, with the chassis bought or leased, and the engine leased for the series and maintained by Toyota New Zealand.

Because the cars are so similar, racing is exceptionally competitive, and with 15 races in five rounds across five weekends, TRS is a high-speed hothouse with the world's young guns all jostling to make their name.

Internationals this year include Raffaele Marciello from the Ferrari Driver Academy, Lucas Auer - nephew of former F1 driver Gerhard Berger - and Josh Hill, son of former F1 world champion Damon Hill and they have one thing in common.

Like front-runner Felix Serralles of Puerto Rico, who raced karts from the age of 6, they already have a decade or more of racing under their belts.

Toyota motorsport manager, Steve Boyce, says the internationals give our boys valuable experience and keep grids full. There's no danger they'll take over and Toyota will lose interest; "as long as there are locals to develop, the series will continue".

"Running this series gets new Zealanders on the world scene like we had in the old days, with Denny Hulme or Bruce McLaren," says Boyce.

Drivers not only get intensive experience working with engineers and against the cream of the young internationals between European race seasons, says Boyce, if they do score a drive overseas they're straight on the case.

The final three 2012 rounds are at Taupo, January 27-29, Hampton Downs. February 2-5 and Manfeild, February 9-12.

- Herald on Sunday

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