Brendon Leitch ready to latch on to 'local' knowledge for Toyota Racing Series
When Brendon Leitch is on the grid for the opening round of the Toyota Racing Series in the cockpit of his FT50, ideally negotiating the twists and turns at Ruapuna will be like riding a bike.
While some of the 20 racers entered in the five-round series are making their TRS debut, the Cromwell-based Southlander should have the inside running on the international rookies given his local knowledge of Mike Pero Motorsport Park.
Leitch, who turned 21 last month, is competing against some of motorsports up-and-coming stars - plus big names in the case of Pedro Piquet - for the fourth time, though a lack of racing is obviously a drawback.
Since finishing third overall in last year's TRS, Leitch has had to content himself with driving hot laps around the Highlands Motorsport Park, where he is also working through a mechanic's apprenticeship.
There's the Porsche GT3 997 to blat around in, though from a competitive perspective the
McLaren 650S is the vehicle of choice because it has a similar power-to-weight ratio to the FT50.
"We're not driving at a 100 per cent at 10/10ths but it's still seat time. It help keeps you mentally in shape," said Leitch, who has also been hitting the gym and pavement for six months to get physically fit.
Leitch's only overseas experience in 2016 was a cherished two days test driving a USF2000 Series Tatum USF-17 at The Brickyard, home of the Indy 500, in October.
He had two 40-minute sessions on the oval where Scott Dixon won from pole position in 2008, and the exposure steeled his resolve to follow in the Kiwi's slipstream.
"That's the foot in the door to showing people over there what I can do. The dream is to race an IndyCar," said Leitch, who knows winning the TRS is a prerequisite to a drive in the US.
Leitch nominated the Mazda-powered USF2000 championship as his next goal, though funding is a handbrake to those ambitions.
"It's a slower car than the TRS but you're making that step overseas. Once you've done that transition then you're away. Money is the big problem, it's very expensive to get into it."
Leitch made some contacts Stateside in October, and hopes a strong showing in the TRS will attract investors.
"If I won the series here I'd say it would open up quite a few doors. All the big guns from overseas are watching this series because they know all the hot shots come here for their testing."
Piquet, the 18-year-old son of three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet, fits into that category, though Leitch was not envious of the Brazilian's well-resourced racing seasons.
"The guys with funding …. it definitely helps but you've still got to have a lot of talent. Money is such a big factor in motorsport.
"It's rewarding when we do well against these guys, knowing they've been racing all year round. Pedro raced at the Macau Grand Prix this year. He ran in in the top-10 in a Formula 3 car."
Leitch had his first shakedown session on Wednesday, more are scheduled on Friday ahead of qualifying on Saturday and the first of three races which culminates with the Lady Wigram Trophy on Sunday.
He won the preliminary race at Manfeild last year and had three other podium finishes and felt the absence of defending champion Lando Norris due to other racing commitments was an advantage.
"He'll definitely go very far. We had a couple of really good dices, it's definitely going to help with one less driver up the front to race against."
TOYOTA RACING SERIES SCHEDULE:
January 14-15: Lady Wigram Trophy, Ruapuna Park, Christchurch
January 21-22: Spirit of a Nation Cup, Teretonga, Invercargill
January 28-29: New:Zealand Motor Cup, Hampton Downs, North Waikato
February 4-5: Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo
February 11-12: New Zealand Grand Prix, Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild