Brendon Hartley, Daniil Kvyat, Mitch Evans, Richie Stanaway,Earl Bamber, Alex lynn are a few names you may just know from F1, GP2 and 3, LeMans and WEC. What you may not know, is what ties them all together. A small yet significant series held here in New Zealand annually for the last ten years, the Toyota Race Series.
Held over the summer and consisting of five rounds through January and February, the Toyota race series is hotly contested by both New Zealanders and international drivers a like. Taking part on circuits across the country, Toyota New Zealand have invested significantly to make this championship world class and positioning it internationally as a feeder series to GP3 in the open wheel racing world.
2014 not only celebrates the series 10th year running but has also seen the introduction of the new FT-50 race car set to take the stage in 2015 and I was fortunate to be invited along to the launch at Toyota Racing in Auckland to get up close and personal with the new, much improved single seater.
The FT-50 still shares the same 1.8 litre Toyota 2ZZ-GE naturally aspirated engine as the retired FT-40, producing around 215 HP. It is now paired with a bespoke Motec M150 ECU and Sadev Semi-automatic SLR82-4 gear box that shifts the weight forward slightly to improve balance. This is controlled via a Magneti Marelli paddle shifter system on an all new steering wheel that sports, for the first time in the series, a colour LCD display giving the drivers more information and greater control.
The Chassis is also all new and unique to the series. Gone are the single dampened front shocks, now replaced with a twin shock system and the wheel base has been widened slightly giving the FT-50 much faster cornering capabilities.
The carbon composite body is slightly longer in the rear and has an all new aero package, improving downforce. Safety is paramount in the cars new design. Crumple zones have been added to the front and rear to improve safety along with higher kevlar foam side impact pods to protect the drivers head and carbon wheel tethers to prevent rogue wheels in the event of a crash.
This year sees the continued use of Brembo brakes, Michelin rubber and the E85 Bio Fuel, which was a worlds first in this series before being adopted internationally including in Formula 1.
These changes bring the new FT-50 inline with european open wheeled standards and give both Kiwi drivers and others a comparable series that further prepares them as they look to move up into GP3 and GP2 in Europe, as well as helping confirm the Toyota race series in the feeder series hierarchy.
Daniel Gaunt, TRS Champion 2006 and 2007 has been behind the wheel during the FT-50’s testing in New Zealand.
“This is a fantastic car, Some of my fondest racing memories are of the FT40. Now driving the new car I feel like I was ten years too early! The drivers coming through in 2015 are going to have a great experience. This car has a lot more aero, the brakes are great, the handling is superb,” he said.
“It’s been five years since I raced a single-seater but this new car brought everything back very quickly. I wouldn’t mind dusting off my gear and getting my visor dirty again actually!”
If you want to see the FT-50 on track and get a taste of the Toyota Race Series, be sure to mark the dates in your calendar for your local circuit and get along to watch the future world champions battle it out. You can find more information on the series at toyotaracing.co.nz.
Toyota Race Series 2015 Calendar
|Round 1||Ruapuna Park||Christchurch||Wigram Cup||14-18/01/2015|
|Round 2||Teretonga Park||Invercargill||Spirit of a Nation||22-25/01/2015|
|Round 3||Hampton Downs Race Track||Auckland||New Zealand Motor Cup||29/01-01/02/2015|
|Round 4||Taupo Motorsport Park||Taupo||Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy||5-8/02/14|
|Round 5||Manfield||Feilding||New Zealand Grand Prix||12-15/02/14|
Story and images:
Roger Baillie (@Rojn8r)