A bumper crop of talented youngsters will line up in the Toyota Racing Series at Ruapuna next weekend but the lack of Kiwi racers is worrying.
It's great to see so many international rising stars making the trip for the five-weekend, 15-race championship, but the TRS category was established to give experience to young New Zealand drivers and prepare them for making their mark overseas.
Recent New Zealand graduates of the series include endurance racing world champion Brendon Hartley, Le Mans 24 Hour winner Earl Bamber, GP2 racers Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway, Japanese Formula Three champion Nick Cassidy, Chinese Formula Masters champion James Munro, V8 Supercars top finisher Shane van Gisbergen and GT front runner Jono Lester.
Only two Kiwis are racing this year - Munro and national Formula Ford champion Taylor Cockerton.
The lack of local talent over the past couple of years has not gone unnoticed, and last year a Kiwi driver fund was established independent of the TRS to try to get more into the field.
Cockerton is the first recipient of the fund and will get a free chassis and engine lease for the 2016 series.
The fund is in its early stages and TRS category manager Barry Tomlinson reckons it's the best way to get more Kiwis into the championship.
"It'll take a while for the Kiwi Fund to kick in and we hope in the future that it'll bring more New Zealand drivers into the series," he said.
"In the past the series has been a great springboard for Kiwis to launch on to the world stage and we now have our first world champion from the TRS in Brendon Hartley. It's a really good thing and overseas drivers now realise that it's a great training ground over a pretty intense period."
Munro is having his third tilt at winning the TRS championship and is confident he's a strong contender.
"I've learnt a lot from previous experiences. My first year was okay for a rookie season but the second year was quite tough for a variety of reasons," said Munro.
"I made a few mistakes as well but also gained a lot of experience."
Brazilian 17-year-old Pedro Piquet, son of three-time world Formula One champion Nelson (1981, 1983, 1987), is returning to the TRS after an abortive start in 2014 because of issues with his racing licence.
Tomlinson is quietly confident the young Brazilian could be a force to be reckoned with this year.
"There will be several who will run up the front. Obviously Pedro Piquet will be one of those based on the fact he's won the Brazilian Formula Three championship and his pedigree helps," said Tomlinson.
Another to keep an eye on is 16-year-old former World Kart Champion Lando Norris who has just won the British Formula 4 championship.
One of only two overseas drivers (Ferdinand Habsburg the other) to return after having completed a full TRS championship is Evans' 2015 GP2 teammate Artem Markelov.
The 21-year-old is the second-oldest driver in the field and is probably the most experienced, having spent two seasons in GP2 and his knowledge of the tracks will be a bonus.
Indian driver Jehan Daruvula has the backing of F1 team Force India and is coached by Ollie Rowland who recently won the Renault 3.5 litre title and has enough experience to challenge the front-runners.
Another who may feature towards the end of the series is Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou who finished second in the Italian Formula 4 Championship.
The TRS is held over five consecutive weekends with practice sessions on the Friday, qualifying and one race on Saturday and two races on Sunday.
TRS race calendar
• Jan 16-17, Ruapuna, Christchurch
• Jan23-24, Teretonga, Invercargill
• Jan 30-31, Hampton Downs, North Waikato
• Feb 6-7, Taupo Motorsport Park
• Feb 13-14, New Zealand Grand Prix, Manfeild, Manawatu