The Toyota Racing Series will not run next year, but its cars will still be used for the 67th edition of the New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs.
International drivers have been flocking to TRS at the start of each year for over a decade to get racing mileage during the European winter. That all changed in 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic led to New Zealand closing its borders.
TRS still went ahead with a grid consisting of local talents, and the NZ GP had some of the country’s most famous drivers. Pandemic pressures means that without international drivers again, Toyota Gazoo Racing NZ has opted to forgo a 2022 season.
“Ongoing COVID-19 disruption has affected our ability to be able to bring in international drivers,” said TGR NZ’s general manager Andrew Davis.
“It’s a shame that despite TRS being a key junior formulae championship in world motorsport with international recognition and even more interest than normal during this pandemic period, we once again have to focus only on a domestic event.”
Following 2020, it will be the second time Hampton Downs has hosted the grand prix.
A four-round championship had been planned with two rounds in the South Island, but access to quarantining hotels for Kiwi drivers returning from a year spent competing abroad – such as Billy Frazer and Peter Vodanovich who race in USF2000 – would have led to small grid numbers for the Formula Regional-spec championship.
Now there will be one event, likely to stick to the thee-race format of previous years, with the final race of the weekend awarding the NZ GP title.
Of this year’s TRS grid, which had only six full-time entries, potentially only two would have been free to do the entirety of the planned 2022 season.
“Unfortunately, due to the number of local drivers we have, we’re unable to run a New Zealand only championship,” added Davis.
“This [one-event] format will still give us the opportunity to showcase New Zealand-based talent first and foremost in 2022.
“We are therefore developing a Road to NZ Grand Prix package with a test programme which will run for New Zealand drivers in the build up to the NZ GP itself. Dates and venues in both the North and South Island will be confirmed soon.”
TGR NZ has developed a self-isolation proposal to present to the national government that could enable international drivers to compete in the grand prix event, but it was advised that the government’s focus on other parts of its COVID-19 response would mean the proposal would not be reviewed in time for the 2022 season.
However if the date of next year’s grand prix lies in February, it could be reviewed and provide a chance for a handful of drivers to travel to New Zealand to race.
David said “it’s more likely to be a protocol for the 2023 championship”, while MotorSport New Zealand’s CEO Elton Goonan added that “a lot of work has gone in behind the scenes” with government agencies to enable border access for non-residents.