Brendon Leitch of Invercargill has finished third overall in the provisional final points of the 2016 Toyota Racing Series. A sensational win in the Sunday morning race of this weekend’s final round at Manfeild Park in Feilding propelled Leitch into third in the series points and confirmed his standing as the top kiwi.
The race win was the big highlight of the weekend for the young driver while finishing in the top three in the series against top class, race hardened opposition is an outstanding result for a driver who has had just one race outing since last year’s series. The race win was the only one for a kiwi in this year’s series and is the second for Leitch since joining the category.
“I’m pumped, and very happy overall, I’ve got a lot to take away from this year’s series,” said Leitch as the achievement was still sinking in moments after the final race.
Leitch overcame his toughest qualifying sessions of the series to score his Manfeild results after he was outside the top ten times in both. However he overcame that disadvantage in the best possible way by slicing through the field in his ITM FT-50 in an impressive drive to finish fifth in Saturday afternoon’s Dan Higgins Trophy Race over 20 laps. Ferdinand Habsburg of Austria won the race from James Munro of Christchurch and Lando Norris of the UK.
The marble draw for Sunday morning’s race saw Brendon gain fourth place on the grid and he made the most of it. He was into second place by the first corner and after passing Polish driver Antoni Ptak at the final corner of the first lap he went on to win his first race of this year’s series after coming so close in a controversial race at Taupo last weekend. Jehan Daruvala of India was second, Ptak third and Norris fourth, giving the UK driver the championship. The victory gave also lifted Leitch to third in the points with just the final race, the 61st New Zealand Grand Prix to go.
Leitch again had to overcome a lowly grid position in the Grand Prix. He fought his way through the field only to be taken off the track by another car, losing several positions. Again he climbed back through the field, crossing the line eleventh which was revised to tenth after Pedro Piquet was penalised for a late race indiscretion. Norris won the Grand Prix from Russian Artem Markelov and Habsburg.
Brendon Leitch of Invercargill has continued to mix it with the international stars of the 2016 Toyota Racing Series during the third round held at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in North Waikato this weekend.
The 20-year-old Invercargill driver leaves Hampton Downs fifth in the championship in what is a very tight points table. He maintains his position as the leading New Zealander and is just fourteen points behind second placed Pedro Piquet of Brazil.
The weekend began well for the Southlander when he set the fastest lap in the ITM FT-50 during Friday's practice sessions before qualifying ninth and eleventh in Saturday's two qualifying sessions.
He worked his way up to finish in fifth place in Saturday afternoon's race won by Lando Norris of the UK. He then took a fine second behind Ferrari Academy Driver Guanyu Zhou of China after making his way through the field in the second race on Sunday morning. It was a chaotic race and Leitch made great progress off the restarts following a couple of incidents to chase Zhou home, getting close but not quite close enough to challenge. However the result brought him into second on the championship points table behind Norris.
The feature race for the New Zealand Motor Cup was another eventful race with Brendon finishing tenth in a race won by Pedro Piquet.
Leitch is well placed with two rounds to go as Piquet, Force India Academy protege Jehan Daruvala, Zhou and the Southlander are all tightly bunched on the points ladder with just fourteen points between them. Norris leads the series, sixty-six points ahead of Leitch and with 75 points for a race win the series is wide open.
"There is nothing in it," said Leitch of the championship battle after this weekend's action. "I made a couple of mistakes and didn't have the car quite right in qualifying and that probably cost me a little in the feature race but I regard it a very good weekend overall."
The series continues next weekend at the Taupo Motorsport Park.
Brendon Leitch, the top New Zealand driver after the first two rounds of the Toyota Racing Series knows what doing things the hard way is all about.
While many of the international drivers have been holidaying in the Queenstown area this week after the Teretonga round, Leitch has been back at work for three days before heading to Hampton Downs in the north Waikato for this weekend’s racing.
The 20 year old who calls Invercargill home although he has lived in Cromwell for the last year lies fourth overall, just three points behind Austrian Ferdinand Habsburg.
Leitch has his eyes focused on a top three finish or better in the five round championship.
“I am just trying to be consistent, stay on the track and score as many points as possible.”
His day job is as an apprentice mechanic at the Highlands Motorsport Park, where he also takes customers for hot laps in a range of exotic machinery.
Raising the finance for this summer’s Toyota Racing Series was a long process and Leitch was the last of the 19 drivers to confirm his entry.
But for the first time he has a full budget and can use the maximum number of tyres at every round.
“Last year we threw more of our budget at our home race and won,” said Leitch. “But then we did the rest of the series on the bare minimum. This year we have got the same resources for all rounds.”
For the first time Leitch is working with an engineer, David Versalko, who has experience in GP3 in Europe, to analyse all the data available and set up the car in the best possible way. “The team is great and the car is really good,” said Leitch.
His father Barry and long time mate George Keast who has worked on Leitch’s cars since Formula Ford days are wielding the spanners.
But while he has good resources at his disposal, Leitch has been unable to make up for the track time his rivals have had in the last 12 months. Some of the internationals have raced a couple of dozen times, as well as undertaking test sessions.
Since last summer’s TRS championship Leitch has had one outing in an elderly Formula Pacific car.
He admits his race craft has been a bit rusty. “I’ve made a few mistakes which has cost me places. It was better at Teretonga, although I still let Markelov past in one race. I’ve just got to use my head and not let cars behind get a look in.”
After finishing runner-up to Lando Norris on his home track, Leitch is not concerned about what the North Island tracks will throw up.
“I’ve been on the pole or won races in Formula Ford at all three tracks (Hampton Downs, Taupo and Manfeild),” said Leitch. “We learnt the new car last year at all three places. Now we can go there and get on with it.”
Leitch has hopes of attracting enough backing to head for the USA or Europe this year to tackle two or three meetings in either the Pro Mazda or Formula Three classes at $40,000 a meeting, “and see where it takes me.”
But before then he is looking for more good results over the next three weekends to attract that backing.