Toyota begins hunt for new single-seaters
When the cars line up on the New Zealand Grand Prix grid at Manfeild next year, they might look hotter than ever.
Palmerston North-based Toyota NZ is looking to ramp up its multi-million dollar motorsport component even further.
That should also see a new saloon series featuring Toyota 86 sports coupes alongside a modernised Toyota Racing Series (TRS).
One estimate has it that Toyota has put about $12 million into the TRS in its nine years - well ahead of any other investment in New Zealand motorsport.
The company intends to replace its TRS cars, whether it be new tubs and/or engines.
John Fowke, Toyota NZ's general manager of finance, said the company was scouring the world for replacements for the Italian-made Tatuus chassis.
"We need to have a new car," he said. "It's 10 years next year and they are still very good."
He said Toyota wasn't on the hunt for a more powerful or heavier single-seater. But it was eager to see who had state-of-the-art cars, and it could happen next year or the year after.
The new cars could use the existing 1.8 litre engines, which are still in good condition.
They are satisfied the cars are still strong and safe, as epitomised by two big shunts this year - Alex Lynn's at Teretonga and Bruno Bonifacio's at Hampton Downs - and the drivers walking away.
"We can always look to bring more safety into them," Fowke said.
"A new car would make it more modern and we could upgrade the engines at a later date."
After a lean season three years ago, the series has had up to 15 international drivers in the past two seasons and 20 cars were on the NZGP grid at Manfeild. Also, many of the race engineers came from Europe for the five-week season.
"This was probably the best season we've had, a lot of returning drivers and the new ones improved a lot during the series."
He said TRS was still the main game and the arrival of the new Toyota 86 saloons wouldn't detract from that.
Toyota demonstrated a TR86 prototype around the country and said there had been a lot of interest in it as a race car. It would help fill a gap with the likes of the Suzuki Swift Cup having left the MotorSport NZ series.
The company is looking at about $70,000 to $75,000 for a race-ready 86.
"It is an affordable very fun car, deliberately designed to be light and handle well. People will own the cars and they will be road-registered."
Meanwhile, Fowke was adamant New Zealand motorsport should not continue being divided, as it is now, between the MotorSport NZ series and the V8 SuperTourers.
"Most definitely people need to get together to move forward and it's time to do that.
"We're so small and the pool of sponsors and competitors is too small.
"For us, we've just been focusing on our game and getting on with it," Fowke said.