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While most motorsports series are in the midst of their winter hiatus, 19 junior formula car drivers from 13 countries will get a chance to get some early seat time by participating in the 2016 edition of the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand.

The five race meetings (three races each meetin, 15 total races), will take place beginning this weekend and run five straight weekends through February 14, 2016.  The five circuits the drivers will tackle are:

  • Ruapuna Park, Christchurch
  • Teretonga Park, Invercargill
  • Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Hampton Downs
  • Bruce McClaren Motorsports Park, Taupo
  • Manfeild Park, Feilding
The Toyota powered Tatuus FT-50 made it's debut in 2015. (Photo courtesy of the Toyota Racing Series)

The Toyota powered Tatuus FT-50 made it’s debut in 2015. (Photo courtesy of the Toyota Racing Series)

The 19 entered drivers are spread amongst four teams and will all be piloting a spec 200hp Toyota powered Tatuus that features a full carbon fiber monocoque chassis, six speed sequential gearbox and Michelin tires.

The list of drivers that TSO will be watching include two MRTI veterans (Will Owen and Timothe Buret), one MRTI rookie (Nicolas Dapero), one American (Theo Bean), and Generation Ganassi (Gen G) driver (Devlin Defrancessco).

Colorado native Owen had an impressive rookie Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire campaign with Juncos Racing in 2015 that included three podiums and 14 top tens. The 20 year-old Texas Christian University student has announced that he will return to Juncos Racing for a sophomore run at the Pro Mazda championship.

Montpellier, France native Buret made the move from Europe to the U.S.A. in 2015 to contest the Pro Mazda championship with Juncos Racing.  After a tumultuous start in St. Petersburg, the 20 year-old settled down and rebounded with one win and eight podiums to finish fifth in the championship, only a single point out of fourth and 13 points out of third. Buret has not announced his plans for 2016.

Dapero, a native of Argentina, spent 2015 in Juncos Racing’s Driver Development program, learning the in’s and out’s of racing in the U.S.A. as well as testing with the Brownsburg, Indiana based team’s Pro Mazda program. The 17 year-old, who will make his Mazda Road To Indy debut during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg also took part in the Formula 3 Brazil and Formula Renault 2.0 (Argentina) during the past 12 months.

After starting his racing career in the Sportswear Vintage Racing Association (SVRA), Bean will be making his first formula car race start in New Zealand. According to this article, the 23 year-old SVRA national champion is interested in pursuing a career path towards the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Defrancesco, who like Bean, will also be contesting his first formula car races was recently named as the first Gen G driver by Chip Ganassi Racing. The 15 year-old, who was a Canadian National Junior karting champion will join Carlin in 2016 to contest the MSA Formula championship in the United Kingdom.

Since it’s inception in 2005, the Toyota Racing Series has been the top level open wheel series in New Zealand and has produced some of the most recognizable names in New Zealand motorsport over the past decade, including: Wade Cunningham (IndyCar), Brandon Hartley (WEC), Earl Bamber (WEC, IMSA), Scott Pye (V8 Supercars), Mitch Evans (GP2), and Nick Cassidy (F3).

Beginning primarily as a championship for local drivers, the Toyota Racing Series has taken on a decidedly more international flavor over the past three years with drivers from more than 20 countries traveling south to test their skills against the top Kiwi drivers. and knock of the rust before their seasons get under way.

Below is a partial list of recognizable international drivers that have taken part in the Toyota Racing Series since 2013:

  • Neil Alberico (MRTI)
  • Lucas Auer (DTM)
  • Tatiana Calderón (MRTI/F3)
  • Alfonso Celis Jr. (GP3/Formula Renault 3.5)
  • Pipo Derani (WEC)
  • Santino Ferrucci (F3)
  • Nicholas Latifi (GP2)
  • Alex Lynn (GP2)
  • Jann Mardenborough (GP3/WEC)
  • Egor Orudzhev (Formula Renault 3.5)
  • Felix Serralles (MRTI)
  • Lance Stroll (F3)

Thanks for reading and make sure to check this post after each race weekend to catch up with how the five drivers we are following faired.

Some highlights from 2013: