Home Featured 2014 Toyota Racing Series season review

2014 Toyota Racing Series season review

by Peter Allen
Andrew Tang

Photos: Toyota Racing NZ

The grid for this year’s Toyota Racing Series was the biggest yet, and saw the largest international contingent too. The field lacked particularly established names from Europe, but there were plenty of promising lesser-known talents. With Nick Cassidy not returning (not until the final round, anyway), the door was open for one of them to make a name for themselves and become the series’ first international champion in season ten.

Egor Orudzhev and Martin Rump shone early on, but it was second-year drivers Jann Mardenborough and Andrew Tang who took the title fight down to the final race, with Tang clinching the title after a consistent performance.

Despite its size and collective lack of experience, the field was close and there were no real backmarkers. Every driver had strong days, and so all 24 deserve a few lines below.

Andrew Tang1. Andrew Tang

Singapore, Neale Motorsport, age 19

3 wins, 9 podiums, 1 pole position, 5 fastest laps

A surprise champion. 15th last year, followed by a low-key Formula Renault Alps campaign where he never finished inside the top six, he joined the new Neale Motorsport team for this campaign. But while the team was new, they proved to be more than strong enough from an engineering point of view.

Tang scored wins in the opening two weekends, but a pair of non-finishes meant he was still an outsider at that point. He then hit his stride, top-scoring in the next two weekends with five podiums and a fourth from six races. A third win at Manfeild helped him to seal the title. He wasn’t necessarily the fastest, but his consistency was impressive. Not only did he stay out of trouble, but he stayed at the sharp end too. A fine performance for a driver with only one year in single-seaters, and superb progress from 12 months ago.

While for some other drivers, winning the title would have been a confirmation of previous potential, Tang needs to head back to Europe and prove this was no fluke. Sadly, national service – which nearly cut his TRS campaign short – looks set to delay that. Season rating: 8/10

Jann Mardenborough2. Jann Mardenborough

United Kingdom, Giles Motorsport, age 22

3 wins, 7 podiums, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps

Mardenborough came in as a pre-season favourite as one of five drivers with TRS experience and the only driver in the field to have done a year of international-level F3 – even if that was his only year of single-seater experience. A Nissan-backed driver in the Toyota-backed series, he may have narrowly missed out on the title, but this was chiefly a learning exercise and he demonstrated the progress he’s made in the past 12 months.

He had a quiet first weekend but racked up some crucial points, and then took three wins from the next three rounds – his first three victories in single-seaters. In the end, he lacked quite the same consistency as Tang but had still done a good job of converting his pace into results – something he struggled with throughout 2013 due to his inexperience.

If he can keep that up, he’ll do well this year in GP3 with Arden, where he wasn’t far from the pace in testing last November. Season rating: 8

Damon Leitch3. Damon Leitch

New Zealand, Victory Motor Racing, age 21

6 podiums, 1 fastest lap

Another pre-season favourite, Leitch used his three years of experience in TRS to mount a consistent campaign that brought him close to the title, but he and the Victory team never had the outright pace.

Unusually, his worst weekend came at his home round at Teretonga, where a rear wing failure cost him. Over the remaining rounds he finished every race inside the top seven until a non-finish in the very last race, going into which he had been just 22 points behind Tang. Third place in the standings matched his 2012 campaign, having seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the quality of the international runners last year. This time he lacked the same pace as many of the visitors – in qualifying at least – but stayed out of trouble and made good progress in races.

A European move looks increasingly unlikely, but he’s good enough for a go in GTs or V8 Supercars down under. Season rating: 7

Martin Rump4. Martin Rump

Estonia, Giles Motorsport, age 17

2 wins, 5 podiums, 3 pole positions, 2 fastest laps

Rump was certainly one of the most impressive drivers of the campaign. With just a year in Formula Renault 1.6 (where he finished second in both the NEC and Nordic series) under his belt, he was one of the least experienced. That didn’t show early on though, as he used consistency to lead the standings through the first couple of weekends. That was despite no race win, with a jump start from pole costing him in race three at Timaru.

He would go on to claim victories at Highlands and Hampton Downs, but he also lost his consistency. Other than those two wins, his best result from the final three weekends was ninth, as a series of incidents and penalties saw him gradually slip out of title contention.

Still, he’s still young and his stock is rising ahead of a move into Eurocup Formula Renault with Fortec. Season rating: 8

Steijn Schothorst5. Steijn Schothorst

Netherlands, M2 Competition, age 19

2 wins, 4 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

This was a disappointing campaign for Schothorst. In 2013, he was beaten only by Nick Cassidy, Alex Lynn and Lucas Auer, and with no drivers this year enjoying their mix of quality and experience, Schothorst was the chief favourite coming into the series. However, he was never really a true contender.

He suffered a series of incidents early on, breaking down out of the lead in the opening race, and later retiring from all three races at at Highlands. Even when he was out of trouble, he lacked pace, with his two wins coming from reverse grid races. He managed to bag some consistent points during the final two weekends to recover fifth in the standings, just one point behind Rump.

It’s been a disappointing 12 months for Schothorst since the promise of his 2013 TRS, so the pressure’s on for his return to Formula Renault with Manor MP. Season rating: 7

Egor Orudzhev6. Egor Orudzhev

Russia, M2 Competition, age 18

3 wins, 8 podiums, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps

Coming into TRS off the back of a promising rookie season in Eurocup Formula Renault, Orudzhev hit the ground running with two wins at Teretonga. It would have been three had he not slipped off from the lead in race two.

Unfortunately, he wouldn’t hit those same heights again, with just one further win coming in the reverse grid race at Highlands. A trio of third places at Hampton Downs kept him in title contention, but a disastrous final weekend at Manfeild saw him slip from a deserved third place down to sixth in the final standings.

Usually great in race conditions, many of his top results came from lesser grid positions – a trait he’d shown in the Eurocup too. He’ll need to get on top of qualifying if he wants to fight for the title there on his return, and also be careful that his aggressive race approach doesn’t get the better of him too often. Season rating: 8

James Munro7. James Munro

New Zealand, Neale Motorsport, age 17

1 win, 2 podiums, 1 pole position

Last year’s New Zealand Formula Ford champion, Munro capitalised on Neale’s competitiveness to figure strongly. When he won from pole at round two at Timaru, it seemed as though a new local star had been unearthed to follow in the footsteps of Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy.

As it was, his best results from the remaining three weekends were fifths. Still, a seventh place finish in the standings was still a fantastic effort for someone of his inexperience, and he showed a good mix of speed and consistency.

A Neale protege, he certainly looks like he could be a title contender if he returns next year. What he does in the meantime remains to be seen, but he’s one to keep an eye on after this performance. Season rating: 8

Dennis Korneev8. Denis Korneev

Russia, ETEC Motorsport, age 20

Something of a two-tier series emerged as the campaign wore on. There was the top seven consisting of race winners and/or regular podium finishers, and then there was the rest – all fairly evenly matched. It was Korneev who finished up ‘best of the rest’ in terms of points haul.

Arriving with seasons in French F4 and Formula Renault Alps behind him, he got plenty of points on the board early on with a strong performance in the wet at Teretonga, claiming two fifth-place finishes. He would never quite hit those same heights again, and he certainly wasn’t the quickest of ‘the rest’, but a seventh in the final race allowed him to pip compatriot Isaakyan to eighth and the honour of top ETEC driver.

After a rather quiet time in the Alps series last year, his TRS campaign bodes well for his return to Europe. Season rating: 7

Matevos Isaakyan9. Matevos Isaakyan

Russia, ETEC Motorsport, age 15

With a year’s less single-seater experience than Korneev (he fifth in French F4 in 2013) but five years’ less life experience, 1998-born Isaakyan defied his youthfulness to deliver a mature campaign.

A stable-mate of Orudzhev on the SMP Racing sponsorship programme, his best result may only have been a sixth place but he had an impressive knack of getting the car to the finish in decent positions. That was no mean feat given how close and crash-prone the midfield was at times. Regular finishes at the bottom end of the top ten saw him hold the eighth place in the standings until a final race non-finish – only his second of the campaign – saw him lose out to Korneev by just two points.

A Formula Renault 2.0 move would be the likely next step for Isaakyan this year – any age restrictions permitting. Season rating: 7

Levin Amweg10. Levin Amweg

Switzerland, M2 Competition, age 19

Amweg was one of only a few drivers to mix it the frontrunning six or seven on a regular basis. He claimed two fourth-place finishes, two fifths and a sixth.

Unfortunately, he also had a habit of throwing away strong positions on other occasions, including when leading race two at Manfeild, and three retirements cost him the higher championship result that he deserved. However, even though his qualifying pace wasn’t the strongest, he more than made up for that with fantastic progress in races.

Champion in the Swiss-based Formula LO series in 2012, his TRS performances have underlined that he is indeed a promising driver despite a quiet rookie season in the highly-competitive Eurocup Formula Renault last year. A switch from Jenzer to ART will give him the tools to move closer to the front this time around. Season rating: 7

Gustavo Lima11. Gustavo Lima

Brazil, M2 Competition, age 17

Lima enjoyed a solid campaign in New Zealand, with the highlight being a strong fourth place at Highlands. He otherwise didn’t trouble the frontrunners too regularly but enjoyed an impressive finishing record, retiring only once.

That demonstrated a good level of maturity for a 17-year-old South American in the rough and tumble of the TRS midfield. With the pack being so close, his frequent scoring meant that he was only 14 points off eighth spot in the final reckoning.

He will now return for a second season in BRDC F4 in the UK, and his performances down under suggest he’s more than capable of improving upon his 14th place from last year. Season rating: 7

Jordan Oon12. Jordan Oon

Australian, ETEC Motorsport, age 23

1 podium

Oon was the oldest driver on the grid, and he used his experience to accumulate a decent points tally even if his pace was a bit underwhelming. He did a brilliant job in the wet chaos at Teretonga to grab a podium in the first race, but his campaign never hit such heights again.

After qualifying fourth for that first race, he then placed outside of the top 20 in all remaining qualifying sessions. He complained of problems with his car’s pace and handling, but he usually made decent progress in the races and bagged a few more top ten results before the series was out.

After doing Australian F3 last year, he has been aiming for a full season in Europe for 2014 and tested Formula Renault 3.5 machinery at the end of last year. Season rating: 6

Michael Scott13. Michael Scott

New Zealand, Victory Motor Racing, age 19

1 fastest lap

Scott contested his second season of TRS and showed some decent progress from 2013. He was another to thrive in the conditions at Teretonga, qualifying third for the opening race of the campaign and finishing in fourth place. He then added a seventh place in race three.

Like others, the rest of his series didn’t live up to the early benchmark. He was twice a victim of the fraught midfield fighting at Timaru, but recovered to take a ninth in race three. Two further top ten finishes came in the form of a seventh at Highlands and an eighth at Manfeild.

He will be disappointed his season didn’t continue the way it started, but he still showed a step up from last year which was good in a larger grid. Season rating: 6

Matt Rao14. Matt Rao

United Kingdom, Giles Motorsport, age 19

Arriving in New Zealand after seasons in Formula Ford and Formula Renault back in the UK, Rao wasn’t the greatest qualifier in the series but put in some impressive race performances.

Surviving the midfield with just one non-finish was good work and helped him to make an impression despite only once starting one of the two main races in a weekend from inside the top 16. His best weekend by far came at Hampton Downs, where he went from 17th to fifth in race one and then repeated that result in race two from pole, only to be relegated to tenth post-race. He then finished ninth in race three.

Rao will hope to build upon that glimpse of promise when he contests the revamped British F3 series with Fortec this year. Season rating: 6

Neil Alberico15. Neil Alberico

United States, Victory Motor Racing, age 21

Well-rated after finishing second in the US2000 series last year and supported by the Team USA Scholarship, Alberico had what appeared to be a very quiet campaign in New Zealand. Much of that could be down to the Victory team, who even with Damon Leitch appeared to lack the outright pace of other teams.

He started promisingly with a pair of top ten finishes at Teretonga, and he qualified a superb sixth at Timaru and raced to a fifth place. Two more top tens came at Highlands, but unfortunately his campaign petered out after that. However, he was only 36 points adrift of eighth-placed Korneev in the final standings.

He will now aim to use the experienced gained to further his progress back home on the next step of the US ladder in Pro Mazda. Season rating: 6

Brendon Leitch16. Brendon Leitch

New Zealand, Victory Motor Racing, age 18

The younger brother of Damon made his bow in TRS after finishing second to Munro in the domestic Formula Ford series last year. In comparison, his season was low-key but he had some high points.

The best of those was at Timaru, where he finished a fine sixth in race one – two spots behind Damon. He went on to claim two ninth places at Highlands, but like team-mate Alberico, he struggled for pace in the final two weekends.

If his brother is anything to go by, we’ll be seeing plenty more of Brendon in TRS in years to come. He’s had a decent first season on which to build upon and should be able to improve his performance against the overseas crop in years to come. Season rating: 6

Ryan Tveter17. Ryan Tveter

United States, Giles Motorsport, age 19

2 podiums

On pace, Tveter should have finished eighth in the standings. That he didn’t was down to a whopping five non-scores – a hit rate of one in three – during the campaign.

He may have only been 16th in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC last year, but Tveter proved his natural talent in TRS. A regular qualifier inside the top ten, he qualified in the top four in both sessions at Highlands and again at Manfeild, bettered on the second of those occasions only by outgoing champ Cassidy and title rivals Tang and Mardenborough. He picked up two podium finishes from that – the only driver outside of the magic top seven to do so.

He can only put so many of his retirements down to bad luck, so that’s something to work on in the future. But the speed is certainly there ahead of a dual Formula Renault Eurocup and NEC campaign with Josef Kaufmann Racing. Season rating: 7

Macauley Jones18. Macauley Jones

Australia, M2 Competition, age 19

Tveter was only the first of several fast drivers marooned towards the bottom of the points table due to too many non-finishes. Jones, the son of V8 Supercar team boss Brad and a graduate of two years in Australian Formula Ford, mixed it with the frontrunners on more occasions than 18th place would suggest.

He was a top five qualifier and finisher at Teretonga, and he then qualified fifth and fourth at Timaru but failed to get a good result out of the weekend due to incidents, including the race one pile-up triggered by Matteo Ferrer. He continued to have decent pace for the remainder of the campaign and got a fourth at Manfeild, but five non-scores affected him.

While V8s are likely to be the long-term goal for Jones, it remains to be seen if he continues his single-seater career for now, Daniel Abt-style. Season rating: 6

Robin Hansson19. Robin Hansson

Sweden, Victory Motor Racing, age 16

Winner of last year’s Formula BMW Talent Cup, this was Hansson’s first campaign in a ‘regular’ racing series and he was another who performed much better than his final ranking would suggest. Like his team-mates at Victory, he struggled for qualifying pace – only managing to get as high as the fifth row on a couple of occasions.

He was superb in race-trim however, and as the campaign went on he regularly fought his way well into the top ten, and often into the top six-or-so. Incidents often stopped him from getting the results his speed deserved, and he was another with five non-scores.

He’s still rough around the edges, as you might expect for a 16-year-old, but he’s shown that the talent is there. A move to Formula Renault 2.0 seems next for him after winter testing, although nothing is confirmed yet. Season rating: 7

Matteo Ferrer20. Matteo Ferrer

Italy, Giles Motorsport, age 18

The TRS is probably a learning experience for all drivers, but that was perhaps demonstrated best this year by Ferrer. Still lacking experience having not karted before campaigns in Intersteps and Protyre Formula Renault, he struggled more than anyone early on in the intense wheel-to-wheel combat.

This was most evident at Timaru, when he triggered a pile-up in race one after taking far too much speed into the first corner, and then played a part in a second collision in race two. He was excluded from the entire weekend as a result – a shame after twice qualifying seventh. The Highlands weekend started with another non-finish, but he then turned a corner, driving to sixth in race three. He was on the pace throughout the Manfeild weekend and took a seventh and a tenth before being hit by Jones while running sixth in the finale.

His plans for the rest of the year are to be confirmed, but another season in the UK would be wise to build upon his promise. Season rating: 6

Alif Hamdan21. Alif Hamdan

Malaysia, Giles Motorsport, age 23

Hamdan came into TRS with an uphill task with only a year in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia under his belt, but given that lack of experience, he performed well under the tutelage of former TRS star and PCCA champion Earl Bamber.

He made plenty of mistakes, forgiveable for a single-seater novice. Those often affected his qualifying, but he showed good pace by the end of the campaign, managing 14th and 17th on the grid in Manfeild. He suffered non-finishes at Teretonga and Timaru but then went on a nine-race finishing streak, interrupted only in the final race. His ability to stay out of trouble allowed him to net a fine tenth-place finish at Highlands.

It remains to be seen whether he continues in single-seaters or opts to further his career in GTs. Season rating: 6

Martin Kodric22. Martin Kodric

Croatia, ETEC Motorsport, age 16

The only car racing debutant to do the whole series, Kodric’s campaign was hampered by a host of incidents but he showed glimpses of promise expected from a top karter.

He was a classified finisher in just three races from the opening three rounds. While the incidents continued – notably taking out Rump at Hampton Downs – he did manage to finish all of the final six races. Even more encouragingly, he had great pace too, qualifying seventh and ninth at Hampton Downs. That was a fine achievement given the size of the field and considering most had at least a season of single-seaters under their belt.

While he can’t have been at fault for all his incidents, it’s definitely something he needs to work on in his dual campaign in Formula Renault NEC and Alps with Fortec this year. If he can stay out of trouble, he’ll get great results. Season rating: 6

Pedro Piquet23. Pedro Piquet

Brazil, M2 Compeition, age 15

(2/5 rounds)

Piquet – or rather his famous father – caused a stir when he arrived in New Zealand but didn’t let the attention go to his head, getting some solid race finishes under his belt during the first two weekends. He showed good pace too, qualifying between ninth and 15th in the four sessions.

Unfortunately, a licence complication related to his age resulted in him being withdrawn from the series ahead of Highlands, a situation that the Brazilian authorities later apologised for.

It would have been good to see what he could have managed over a full campaign, but the tentative early signs were positive. There has been talk of him returning next year, which would be good to see. Season rating: N/A

Nick Cassidy24. Nick Cassidy

New Zealand, Neale Motorsport, age 19

1 wins, 2 pole positions, 1 fastest lap (1/5 rounds)

Despite another lean season of action in Europe, Cassidy did not return to TRS this year to go for a third straight title. He did however put together a very late deal to do the final round in Piquet’s car in order to defend his New Zealand Grand Prix crown.

He lined up with the Neale team, for whom he had acted as driver coach. He managed to beat title contenders Tang and Mardenborough to claim a double pole position, although technical issues prevented him from starting the first race. He successfully won race three, bringing him his third NZGP title.

He continues to deserve a full-time opportunity in Europe, having impressed when he had the chance to drive GP3 and F3 machinery last year. Status Grand Prix want him to lead their GP3 squad this year. Season rating: N/A