Rising Kiwi race star Brendon Leitch has confirmed he will contest the six-round Formula 4 United States Championship, which is one of 12 FIA-sanctioned F4 series around the world.
Leitch, originally from Invercargill and now based in Cromwell, is the first New Zealander to enter the North American F4 championship, which ran for the first time in 2016.
Leitch is understandably excited about the opportunity ahead to progress his motorsport career, particularly as his single seater racing for the past four seasons has comprised only the annual five-week TRS championship where he was a regular race winner.
"I just want to jump in the car and get out there!" says the 21-year-old apprentice mechanic. "The support is overwhelming both here and in America - the US F4 people are keen to see us do well, which is fantastic."
Plans have quickly come together since late February announcement that Leitch was working to put the funding together for this US campaign. "We have filled many spots in the supporters' club largely thanks to our supporters' club manager Deborah Day from one of my main sponsors Dayle ITM. While we still have some way to go with the budget, it's fantastic to be able to confirm we're entering the US F4 Championship."
In the US, Leitch will be supported by New Zealanders Garry Orton, director of Nelson-based Victory Motor Racing who ran all four of Leitch's TRS campaigns, Teena and Mo Larsen and Dave McMillan.
"These Kiwis have been instrumental in putting my US F4 programme together along with former Atlantic racer Stuart Crow of Texas. It's amazing what they have been able to put together in the last couple of weeks to get me on-track. If it wasn't for Victory Motor Racing, I wouldn't be where I am today.
"We will be known as Kiwi Motorsport and I am very excited to have a full team of New Zealanders. It's good for my confidence as well as having some familiar faces on the team as I progress into the American motorsport scene. I will be proud to fly the flag for New Zealand!"
The six-round championship gets underway at Homestead-Miami Speedway over the weekend of 8-9 April, then there's a break until the 8-11 June round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. July sees Leitch head to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) in Ontario, Canada. There are two rounds in August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Virginia International Raceway, before September's big final at Circuit of the Americas in Texas where the US F4 Championship is a support category for the FIA World Endurance Championship which features Kiwi racers Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber, Scott Dixon and possibly Shane van Gisbergen.
Of the Pirelli-shod, Honda-powered F4 car he'll race for the first time at Miami's opening around, Leitch says it's a little slower than the current TRS car in terms of horse power and downforce. "But because the straights are longer, we will reach higher top speeds - around 250 km/h at Indy. The rules are very similar to here in New Zealand; being a FIA series there aren't any significant differences in the regulations, but I will have to get used to driving on the other side of the road to get to the circuits!"
While each of the American circuits is new to Leitch, he's confident he'll be as well prepared as he can be. "With the tracks here in New Zealand, many corners here resemble different ones around America. I've also been doing a bit of simulator work so that when I arrive at each track I've got a head start knowing which way the track goes."
The FIA F4 championships are intended to foster competitors' career development. With around 22 young drivers looking likely to run in the US F4 series, Leitch will make the most of all opportunities to further his race craft on new circuits in a new format of single-seater race car. There's also a F4 driver coaching programme which includes publicity, data analysis and other aspects of driver training.
Leitch is appreciative of the many people who've got behind his bid to mount this US campaign and further his goals to become a professional racing driver, ideally in Indycar. "I'd like to say thank you to all the people who have helped make this opportunity possible. I'm very lucky to be able to do this and I'll be doing the best I can to wave the Kiwi flag!"
Leitch departs New Zealand this coming Sunday for Florida and the opening 2017 Formula 4 United States Championship the following weekend.
Leitch isn't the only New Zealander racing in F4 this year - fellow 2017 Toyota Racing Series competitor Marcus Armstrong is running in both the German and Italian F4 series. The Champion of Champions F4 race proposed for the end of the year could potentially see the two New Zealanders once again racing against each other.