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Immigration NZ gives nod for international drivers to race in TRS

by Elliot Wood

Photo: Toyota Racing NZ

New Zealand’s immigration authorities have granted entry to the country for international drivers who want to race in the 2021 Toyota Racing Series.

For some time it looked like only native drivers would be able to contest next year’s season, which has already been compressed to three rounds all on the country’s North Island, as a result of Immigration NZ’s strict restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lengthy consultation and discussion with MotorSport New Zealand, MBIE and Immigration NZ has now resulted in an outcome where international drivers will be allowed to compete after a compulsory quarantine in a set hotel.

“There has been a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to ensure that there were correct protocols and processes in place to allow a limited number of international drivers into the country for the 2021 Championship,” said Toyota New Zealand general manager for marketing Andrew Davis.

“Everyone involved in the series is grateful for that work and for the efforts of MBIE, ministers, New Zealand Immigration and Sport NZ to make this happen for the sport.”

There will be a limit on the number of successful applicants, and they must all travel between January 3-6. The season starts at Hampton Downs on January 24-26, with the race meeting including the 66th running of the New Zealand Grand Prix.

Following two rounds at the circuit, there will be a two-day mid-season test for the international drivers before the season finale at Manfeild, which could run to four races.

Category manager Nicolas Caillol added: “We can now follow up several very serious enquiries from drivers wishing to race in the series from overseas and we will be making announcements as we confirm drivers.

“With lots of interest already from Kiwi drivers and several well-known names, fans can look forward to a fascinating few weeks of driver announcements heading towards the grand prix and the other rounds of the championship.”

Kenny Smith is the first driver to commit to a drive in the 2021 season, albeit only making his customary appearance in the grand prix, and the inclusion of foreign talents means a contigency plan that involved attracting other New Zealand racing stars now does not need to be put into place.

Formula Scout has previously reported that post-season TRS could hold two non-championship rounds in Australia and gain a Formula 1 support slot.

MotorSport NZ’s acting CEO Elton Goonan also spoke about the encouraging update on international talents returning to TRS.

“With a large amount of work being done behind the scenes, it’s great that we have been able to have CTRS recognised by Sport NZ and MBIE as an event that will now allow it access to the MIQ facilities,” Goonan said.

“Being able to have some international drivers attend the shortened championship in 2021 reinforces the ability for our young star drivers to compete in a world class feeder series.”