New Zealand’s premier ‘open-wheel’ race category, the Toyota Racing Series, has announced its 2013 calendar and already the first international drivers are signing on to compete alongside rising Kiwi race talent.

Entering its ninth season, the series has continued to increase its European profile year by year, with graduate racers excelling in a wide variety of categories offshore. This continues to fulfil the TRS mission of acting as an incubator for talented drivers from New Zealand and overseas, giving them invaluable training and experience in ‘wings and slicks’ race cars as they look to develop their international racing careers.

Toyota Racing Series category manager Barrie Thomlinson says the series has earned a strong reputation in the motor racing world “which is something we can all be immensely proud of.”

“It has taken some time to develop but we are now firmly on the radar for many young up and coming racing drivers and their teams from around the globe. Responding to supportive feedback from drivers, teams and managers, the 2013 series will once again follow our established successful format which features 15 races over five consecutive race weekends.”

The five round championship starts on January 10-13 at Invercargill’s Teretonga Park, the southernmost permanent motor race venue in the world. The feature race will be contested over 20 laps for the Spirit of a Nation Cup.

The series then heads north via a now-traditional Queenstown adventure stop to arrive in Timaru the following weekend. The feature race there is for the Timaru Herald Trophy.

The mid-point of the championship sees competitors cross Cook Straight and arrive in the North Island resort town of Taupo for the third round, where they will contest the feature race for the Denny Hulme Memorial Cup.

Then the series heads to New Zealand’s newest race track, Hampton Downs in the north Waikato, where the TRS feature race winner will be presented with the NZ Motor Cup, one of the oldest and most prestigious trophies contested in New Zealand motorsport.

The series culminates with the New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild, which also sees racers compete for the Dan Higgins Trophy and the Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup. The New Zealand Grand Prix is one of only two FIA-recognised national Grand Prix titles raced outside of Formula One.

Barrie Thomlinson has recently returned from his annual trip to the northern hemisphere to observe the progress of the 2012 ‘graduates’ and to talk with drivers, managers and teams about the 2013 series.

“The northern hemisphere is where many of the world’s rising talent are competing. We talk to many of them about the series and explain the undoubted benefits of heading south to New Zealand when the European circuits are in the grip of winter weather and testing bans are in place for some of the categories,” he says.

This year, news of the series preceded him into the highest profile categories, with 2012 TRS graduates posting impressive results in GP3, British, European and German Formula 3, Formula Abarth and the highly respected Renault World Series.

“Drivers who have come through the Toyota Racing Series have been making their mark in a range of European championships this year and in particular the ‘Class of 2012’ have been notching up podiums and race wins and are challenging for major titles which is fantastic to see,” says Thomlinson.

New Zealand racing driver and double TRS champion Mitch Evans is scoring points consistently at the front of the field and is boosting the motorsport profile of this country as he battles for dominance in GP3. Driving for MW Arden and with Formula One racer Mark Webber managing his racing career, Evans has fought his way through to lead the championship.

“With Mitch doing so well we have a great ambassador for New Zealand and TRS,” Thomlinson says.

Also showing strong form is 2012 TRS graduate Félix Juan Serrallés IV, who is tipped to be the most successful driver to ever emerge from the Caribbean island nation of Puerto Rico.

Serrallés is currently second in the British F3 Championship and credits his 2012 TRS season with helping him to get on the pace instantly in his northern hemisphere campaign.

Announcing his intention to return and contest the 2013 Series, he told leading UK motorsport publication Autosport his results in British F3 “reflect everything I learned over there. There are so many races and no time to relax, it is a beautiful country.”

Racing for leading F3 team Fortec, Serrallés has confirmed he will also bring his young Brazilian team-mate Pipo Derani with him to race the 2013 series. Further local and international driver commitments are expected in coming weeks.