Murphy, Stichbury – the names of two Kiwi motorsport legends returned to the track on Friday at Hampton Downs in the northern Waikato as the Toyota 86 Championship hosted 25 fresh race drivers at its post-season test day.
Ronan, son of Greg Murphy; and Zac, son of Ashley Stichbury (1971-2002), were among the new group of racers who took the chance to try a TR 86 race car or log test laps in their own newly-bought cars. The pair are looking to make the step up from karting into full-sized cars in the premier single-make category.
Category manager Geoff Short says the strong turnout at Friday’s test shows the level of interest in the Championship and its appeal as an invaluable step on any race driver’s career path. He says it is likely that the 2018-2019 season will exceed the turnout for the most recent series, which saw a total of 22 drivers contest all or some rounds.
The response from young racers and strong demand for new cars demonstrates the Championship’s credibility as a career step for rising race stars. Recent graduates of the series include 2018 Castrol Toyota Racing Series drivers Marcus Armstrong, Taylor Cockerton, Reid Harker and Ryan Yardley, as well as ECB SuperUtes competitor Tom Alexander.
Mr Short said reaching out to the karting fraternity and other motor racing categories had brought the record number of drivers to the test.
“It was a sensational day and the drivers – many of whom had not had a lot of experience in a full-sized race car or with using a manual h-pattern gear shift – did really well,” he said.
Only cars built by Toyota Racing New Zealand are eligible for the Championship and the current crop of available new-build and leases cars is almost exhausted, Mr Short added. The Championship grid is capped 24 cars.
“So the message to anyone holding back on making a purchase or setting up a lease is: you’d best hurry because you’re pretty much out of luck!”
In addition to those who have bought new cars or are negotiating to buy cars already used in the series, drivers can lease race cars directly from Toyota Racing New Zealand, they can join an existing team, or enter the running for the annual CareVets Racing scholarship.
The CareVets Racing team, put together by Hamilton’s Dr Keith Houston, has two drives available this year and is inviting racers to enter its evaluation day on April 30. CareVets drivers Christchurch’s Jack Milligan and Ryan Yardley won the Championship in 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 respectively.
The championship calendar for 2018-2019 is expected to be largely the same as the most recent series, starting in November at the Virgin Australia Supercar Championship round at Pukekohe.