One of Formula 1’s most famous names will be on the starting grid when the 2014 Toyota Racing Series fires into action in early January.
Brazilian Pedro Piquet, 15, the youngest son of three times Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet, has been confirmed to race and will join the 2013 TRS championship-winning team M2 Competition. Pedro will be accompanied to New Zealand by his famous father Nelson Piquet, who expects to attend all five rounds.
Piquet has raced extensively in karting and has most recently been driving in Formula 3 in Brazil to prepare him for TRS.
“My goal for TRS 2014 is to be competitive against the other drivers and gain more experience driving formula cars. Nowhere else in the world can you do 15 races in five weeks, so TRS is the best championship for drivers who are looking to further their knowledge and experience,” he said.
The championship has arguably become the choice of world champions. The Piquets are the second famous motor racing father son pairing to join TRS.
The 1996 F1 World Champion, Damon Hill, brought his son Josh to New Zealand in 2011 and 2012 with the aim of honing Josh’s single-seater skills.
Heading into its tenth anniversary season, the TRS has attracted an unprecedented level of interest from international drivers who will join their young Kiwi counterparts. Series organisers are preparing for an onslaught of young rookie talent as well as several drivers who will return for their second season of TRS when the 2014 championship kicks off at Teretonga, the southernmost race track in the world, in Invercargill on January 10.
Some of these young racers are already aligned with motor racing’s leading teams and are drawn to New Zealand by the prospect of five weeks of highly competitive racing which offers up to 3,000 kilometres behind the wheel as well as the chance to win the first FIA Grand Prix title of the season. The championship takes place during the northern hemisphere winter, when most circuits there are unable to be used.
Toyota Racing Series category manager Barrie Thomlinson says the series has earned a strong reputation over 10 years and has established its place in the global motor racing calendar “which is something that we can all be immensely proud of.”
“It has taken a consistent well managed approach over the years to firmly establish the series on the radar for young up and coming racing drivers. Attracting our second Formula One World Champion father and son is further proof of the respect this series now enjoys the world over. Teams from around the globe are now encouraging their drivers to New Zealand to maximise their ‘off season’ preparation,” he said.
Five New Zealand-based TRS teams will between them field 22 drivers for the 2014 championship. Thirteen countries will be represented in the 2014 championship which is contested at five circuits over five consecutive weekends, travelling from Teretonga to Timaru’s Levels Raceway and then on to the new Highlands Motorsport Park at Cromwell. Crossing to the North Island, drivers race the penultimate round at Hampton Downs in the northern Waikato before heading to Manfeild near Palmerston North for the 59th New Zealand Grand Prix.
The championship uses a single chassis supplied by Tatuus and are powered by a production based 1.8 litre four cylinder Toyota engine.
In almost a decade of top level racing action, TRS has promoted many young racing drivers as they progress their chosen career paths.
“Drivers who have competed in the Toyota Racing Series have been making their mark in a range of European championships this year, notching up podiums and race wins as well as challenging for major titles which is fantastic,” said Thomlinson.
Kiwi Mitch Evans, currently racing in GP2, just one step away from Formula One, is a TRS graduate and the youngest FIA Grand Prix title winner in the history of motor racing. He is a two time Toyota Racing Series winner, in 2010 and 2011, won the New Zealand Grand Prix in 2011 at the age of 16 and won the European GP3 championship in 2012.
Russian Daniil Kvyat who raced in TRS in 2011 as a member of the Red Bull Junior driver programme won the GP3 championship this year. He has just been promoted into F1 with Red Bull’s Toro Rosso team for 2014.
Ferrari development academy member Raffaele Marciello (TRS 2012) won the FIA European Formula Three championship this year and looks likely to step up into a professional career.
Palmerston North’s Brendon Hartley won the very first TRS race in 2005 before joining Red Bull’s Junior driver programme. He won the Formula Renault 2.0 championship in 2007 and is now a valued member of the Mercedes GP F1 simulator test team. Hartley is on the verge of signing a contract to join the driving line up for Porsche in their brand new LMP 1 Le Mans Sportscar team.
Kiwi Nick Cassidy emerged as TRS champion in both 2012 and 2013 and also won the New Zealand Grand Prix titles in the same years– a result he calls the ‘double-double’. Cassidy has been competing in Europe, acquitting himself well as he searches for a break into the upper echelons of motor racing.
“We have a sensational line up of drivers coming to the championship this year. Our young Kiwis will face a strong challenge to hold the title in New Zealand. Could this be the year an international driver scoops the titles? Or will a New Zealand driver once again emerge triumphant?”