Lester name is synonymous with Manfeild
Few will begrudge Jono Lester calling Manfeild home when he blats around the circuit next weekend as the leading rookie in the Toyota Racing Series.
Lester, 22, might now live in Auckland after spending 18 months in Taupo but without any Manawatu drivers on the grid, his old home province might as well claim him.
The circuit was run by his grandparents, Rob and Wendy, from when it started in 1973 until 2003, while his father Richard operated his driver training from there until 2006.
"I've done plenty of driving at Manfeild, all of my early testing when I was a young fella," Jono Lester said.
He recalled running in cars for his father's clients.
The pair now train Malaysians in conjunction with Malaysian oil giant Petronas throughout the North Island, often at Manfeild.
One of Jono Lester's ETEC Motorsport team-mates in this series, Malcolm Moh, profited from the Lesters' tuition.
Moh and Lester racked up mileage at Manfeild in the pre-season test in December.
Lester started his early racing at Manfeild, in Formula Fords in 2004. Six months after that and soon after his 14th birthday, he jumped into one of his father's school cars in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Invercargill.
Formula Ford was in its heyday and he found himself sharing Teretonga with 35 cars, but didn't finish.
He will be contesting the 57th New Zealand Grand Prix on Sunday, part of the series final round, sitting seventh overall ahead of Austrian Lucas Auer and Russian Dimitri Suranovich.
"It's definitely the event I've been the most excited for," Lester said.
He is no rookie, just new to the Toyota series, as are 11 of the 20 drivers. Lester has done plenty of racing in Formula Vees and Porsches over the years.
But winning the rookie title would supplement his budget nicely for next year.
Even he admits he and his engineer, who is new to single-seater racing, are struggling to come to terms with the Toyota. It has been frustrating over the past two weekends, at Taupo and Hampton Downs.
"In the last two rounds the biggest issue has been that I haven't been qualifying well, even though I have had good race pace," he said.
"The qualifying on Saturday for the Grand Prix will be the most important single session of the weekend."
The problem has been getting the most out of the new tyres used in qualifying.
"There's a bit of an art to it and I'm struggling to pick it up. The European drivers have it down pat."
He said fractions of a second can cost six to seven places on the grid.
His only podium finish was at round one at Teretonga, a third placing; he had two fourths at Timaru.
"It has been a bit of a struggle of a season. We as a team and me as a driver aren't improving as much as everyone about us."