Leading drivers in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series, which has its third round at Hampton Downs in the north Waikato this weekend, don’t only rely on their engineers and mechanics to go as fast as possible on the track. Five of them are accompanied by support staff under a variety of guises.
Mats van den Brand (pictured) gave up a promising career as a rally driver – he competed in the Junior World Rally Championship in 2015, finishing second in the German round – to concentrate on his business of helping young drivers and building classic BMW M3 rally cars.
He has helped 17-year-old teenager Richard Verschoor for the last five years. “I’m not a driving coach, manager or an engineer – more somebody he can trust and talk to. I help organise his programme, social media and reports back to the Dutch talent identification programme he is in.” Verschoor currently lies third in the championship.
Peter Flythstrom also has a rallying background as a co-driver for 12 years up to WRC level with fellow Finn, Kristian Sohlberg. He is here to look after Robert Shwartzman, the 18-year-old from St Petersburg who is second on the points table after the first two rounds.
Flythstrom’s motorsport management company has several drivers under its wing. “Managing a young driver is a head game,” said Flythstrom, “Just like getting a rally driver to produce his best. I get to know the drivers, what they are like and their moods.”
Top rookie, Clement Novalak, has two staff. Glen Gower describes himself as the London based French teenager’s mentor. He has been working with the 17-year-old for the last three years helping with his transition from karting into single seaters.
With a background of 40 years in motorsport as a mechanic and engineer, Gower looks after Novalak on a day to day basis. Gerard Gray, Novalak’s personal trainer has also made the trip to New Zealand to provide massage and keep him in top physical shape.
Eighteen-year-old James Pull has a guardian present in the form of John Bishop. “I’ve been looking after him since he was 12,” said Bishop. “I know his Dad who is in Singapore earning the money for James to race, so when he came to Britain for karting his father asked me to take care of him.”
Pull lives with Bishop, who organises all the myriad of details around his racing career and has a home gym which a number of young drivers use as part of their preparation.
Charles Milesi, at 16 years old and the youngest driver in this years Castrol Toyota Racing Series, is accompanied by Julien Abellie, his driving coach, who also has a rallying background.
“I look at what the engineers do with the car set-up, but concentrate on Charles’ driving lines and what he is doing on the track,” said Abellie, who also co-ordinates Milesi’s activities and guides his mental approach.
All drivers in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series will have official practice at Hampton Downs on Friday, with qualifying on Saturday morning, followed by a preliminary race in the afternoon.
Sunday morning sees another preliminary race, followed by the main event for the New Zealand Motor Cup, which used to be awarded to the winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix when it was held at Ardmore and Pukekohe tracks.