Tsunoda and Lawson

Lawson & Tsunoda start Toyota Series in New Zealand's South Island

#1 Liam Lawson (NZL – M2 Competition Toyota FT-60)

#33 Yuki Tsunoda (JAP – M2 Competition Toyota FT-60)

21 drivers from around the globe are assembled at the Highlands Motorsport Park near Queenstown New Zealand for the first of five rounds of the Castrol Toyota Racing Series. 19-year-old Japanese Yuki Tsunoda makes his first outing down under alongside fellow Red Bull Junior and local hero Liam Lawson, both driving for M2 Competition.

This year there is a new car, the FT-60, the third car the series has used in a championship that stretches back 15 years. More like a scaled down Formula One car than either of the two previous machines, the FT-40 and the FT-50.

Designed like the previous two series cars by Italian manufacturer Tatuus and powered by the Toyota 8AR-FTS, a two litre, turbocharged, direct injection engine producing 285hp.

17-year-old New Zealander Lawson is the defending champion after winning 5 of last year's 15 races and finishing on the podium 11 times.

Feeling the pressure?

"Not at all," asserted Lawson on Wednesday. "That's what everyone has been saying but I absolutely don't have expectations of repeating last year. It's a new car, a new list of drivers and a new year. We'll see how things go and the main thing at the moment is to think of it as a great opportunity for five weekends of racing, perfect preparation for going back to Europe and the season there so I am going to make the most of it.

"We are at the track, getting the last fitting details sorted, the final preparations for getting on track tomorrow. It's a new car for everyone, I drove something a little similar a couple of years ago, just enough to know how different it is and talking to the guys who have driven this car we all know it is something new and pretty physical to drive from what I have been told."

"So the way you drive it, the style of driving is totally new so we will have got to get used to that. It's great that the series is starting here at Highlands, one of my favourite tracks of the series and a really cool location."

Tsunoda happy and determined

"It is so lovely to be here, such a beautiful place," enthused Tsunoda on Wednesday. "I am really looking forward to the five events, it is a great challenge."

"It will be a lot of fun but it is also very serious for me. Last year racing in Europe I gained a lot of experience, I learnt a lot of things and I made mistakes. I am determined to start this year with a good step forward. We have three races each weekend and I need to get good points in all races, that didn't always happen last year. I need to improve my consistency."

"So I will make good use of all the time I have in the car starting tomorrow with the free sessions so that we can be in a good situation for qualifying."

"The track looks fantastic, with a bridge like Suzuka. It is like a Japanese race track, if you go wide you are on the grass, not a big tarmac run-off like the European tracks where you are always thinking about track limits. For me this is more like a normal track back home. I think I will really enjoy my time here," concluded the Honda Formula Dream Project driver.

Highlands Motorsport Park weekend schedule – all times New Zealand Summer Time (CET+12)
Thursday 16th January
9.05am - 9.25am: First Timers Test Session Group A
9.30am - 9.50am: First Timers Test Session Group B
1.15pm - 1.55pm: Test Session 1
3.45pm - 4.25pm: Test Session 2

Friday 17th January
10.40am - 11.10am: Practice 1
2.05pm - 2.35pm: Practice 2
4.20pm - 4.50pm: Practice 3

Saturday 18th January
10.55am - 11.10am: Qualifying 1
4.00pm: Race 1 (15 laps)

Sunday 19th January
9.25am - 9.40am: Qualifying 2
12.10pm: Race 2 (15 laps)
4.20pm: Race 3 (20 laps) Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup