Auckland schoolboy Mitch Evans aims to become the youngest ever winner of the New Zealand Grand prix when the Toyota Racing Series comes to Manfeild near Palmerston North this weekend.
At just 15 years old, Evans won the first race of the season at Invercargill. He has qualified on pole three times, and has won three races – all his best results coming on the Saturday of race weekend.
The New Zealand Motor Cup last weekend at Hampton Downs was no exception: Evans won the first-ever TRS race at the new circuit, dominating from flag to flag in hot and humid conditions on Saturday afternoon. On the Sunday Andrew Waite won the second 15-lap race and Estonian Sten Pentus entered the history books with a fine win of the 20 lap Motor Cup race.
Evans, though, holds the championship lead and has set the Toyota Racing Series – and outright – lap record at Hampton Downs with a 1:01.846, set on lap 12 of the second race with a best speed of 153.090 km/h.
The New Zealand Grand Prix weekend is the final round of the twelve-race TRS International Series which has this year been contested by drivers from Australia, Brazil and Estonia.
Lining up against Evans, and with recent race form that indicates they are equally capable of becoming Grand Prix winners, are Tauranga racer Richie Stanaway, who has entered the Motor Cup and Grand Prix events to hone his craft while waiting for his European race and test season to start. Stanaway and Evans were long-time rivals in Formula Ford, always in the front of the field and tussling wheel to wheel for the lead.
Lucas Foresti is one of the international drivers who has contested all four international rounds of the series. Managed by Roberto Moreno, Foresti won the third race of the season and is well capable of winning this weekend.
It is the other international entry, Sten Pentus, who may prove one of the toughest opponents Evans faces in his quest to inscribe his name on the historic Grand Prix trophy.
Pentus won last weekend’s 20-lap New Zealand Motor Cup race at the new Hampton Downs race circuit, and also has his name on the Spirit of a Nation Cup, won at Teretonga track near Invercargill at the start of the International Series.
Wanganui racer Earl Bamber is back in TRS after a break. He went head to head with Andy Knight for the title two seasons ago, battling to the last corner of the last race of the championship. Last year he raced for the New Zealand A1GP team, and this season has been at the front of the TRS Championship battle.
Popular local driver Sam MacNeill makes a return to the Toyota Racing Series, drawn by the chance to once more contest the ultimate trophy at a track he loves.
“Manfeild has given me some good results and couple of real frights. I am really looking forward to the GP. I like the Manfeild track and I enjoy racing in front of family and friends. It’s going to be a great weekend.”
None of the other racers can be discounted for a podium or race win during the weekend. Stefan Webling of Oakura has found renewed speed this year and is regularly in the top five, well placed to pounce on a momentary indiscretion from any of those in front.
Likewise young Jamie McNee of Wellington has shown strong pace, as has Aucklander Alistair Wootten. Ken Smith continues his racing career in New Zealand’s premier race series and has finished as high as seventh in last weekend’s races. Former Grand prix winner and TRS Champion Andy Knight came back to the series last weekend, and had an incident-filled run but was hoping to secure funding to race the Grand Prix this weekend with the Triple X team.
Going into the Grand Prix weekend the TRS race win tally is now Evans three, Pentus and Bamber two each, Foresti one and Waite one. In the international stakes New Zealand drivers have won six races to three for the internationals’ three. Among the teams, Giles Motorsport has six wins, Triple X two wins and ETEC has one.
The points battle is closer than ever. Evans’ lead has narrowed from 30 to 25 points with Earl Bamber still second overall on 533; Sten Pentus moving back into contention second equal with Bamber and Lucas Foresti a close fourth on 491.
The weekend’s action begins today with a test session at Manfeild from 10.00 am to 10.30; then continues off-track with a pro-am karting demonstration event in Palmerston North’s central square at noon. The drivers then return to the track for a full hour test session from 2.00 pm to 3.00 pm.
On Friday, there is an autograph signing session in the Feilding square before test sessions at 11.25 and 4.25 pm. On Saturday, the TRS cars have two back to back qualifying sessions to decide grid positions for the week’s three races, followed by a top ten shootout.
At 5.45 pm the cars are on track for the first race of the weekend, the 20-lap Dan Higgins trophy.
On Sunday, the on-track action starts at 11.40 with a 12 lap race, followed in the afternoon at 2.20 pm by the New Zealand Grand Prix. By 3.00 pm the newest name to be inscribed on this historic trophy will be known.