Toyota 86 Racing Series: Fast-tracking the next generation of motorsport stars

"This is the motorsport equivalent of petty cash."

So says Neil Crompton, former touring car ace and current motorsport commentator, of the Toyota 86 Racing Series, the grassroots motor racing category that took Australia's race track by storm in 2016.

Now in its sophomore season, the 86 Racing Series continues to provide aspiring racing drivers with a cost-effective platform to hone their race craft and, hopefully, forge a career in professional motorsport.

The premise of the series is simple: a field of identical race cars that are cheap to build (in relative terms), even cheaper to race and maintain and driven by a mix of experienced old hands and younger drivers with burning ambition. The tight technical regulations maintains a level-playing field. And that means, who wins or loses is down to the driver.

Toyota has a long and storied history in motorsport, spanning some 60 years. What's not well-known, however, is that that history began in Australia.

Toyota's first motorsport endeavour anywhere in the world came in 1957 in the gruelling Round Australia Trial when the company entered a Toyopet Crown Deluxe for the 17,000km test of endurance. In doing so, Toyota became the first Japanese manufacturer to enter world motorsport.

Driver Kunio Kaminomura, with co-driver Koujiro Kondo, punished the 1.5-litre Crown with an astonishing 36kW of power for 19 days, finishing the Trial without any major problems and in 47th position overall (in a field of 86).

Since that gruelling debut right here in Australia, Toyota has gone on to compete in almost every discipline of motorsport, winning countless races and rallies and world championships.

Today's Toyota 86 Racing Series is a far cry from those early and subsequently heady days. Designed to provide affordable racing while developing young driver talent, the 86 Racing Series certainly hit the mark in its first year.

Last year's series winner, 18-year-old Will Brown, has graduated to the second-tier V8 Supercar series, the Super2 Series this year where he has already made an impact finishing inside the top-10 in his first three races. That's no mean feat for a Supercar rookie in a hotly-contested series.

Brown credits the Toyota 86 Racing Series with accelerating his learning.

"The Toyota 86 Racing Series is a one-of-a-kind category that helps you step up to a professional drive," he said. "With such a large grid, the talent scouts really notice who is in front."

Of course, motor racing, even when it's billed as cost-effective, is an expensive business. As the old adage goes, "how do you make a small fortune in motorsport?"...

... "Start with a large one."

But, Toyota has tried to keep costs down and, to a large extent, it has succeeded. You can compete in a five-round season for around $25,000 and be competitive. That's on top of the initial outlay for the car, but even that is relatively inexpensive on the motorsport scale. And of course, the cost is amortised over however many season you race.

We caught up with Australian touring car legend Glenn Seton at the Toyota 86 Racing Series launch in Sydney this week. Seton has accomplished (almost) everything there is to accomplish in Australian motorsport. From being a factory Nissan driver to setting up his own race team and wining two Australian touring car titles, Seton is now overseeing the career of his 18-year-old son Aaron, who races in the 86 Series.

"The car we got was a second-hand car and we bought all the components for it and built it up ourselves," Seton told CarAdvice. "The car was about 26 grand and the kit, when you include the rollcage and all the brake stuff; the whole kit was about $30,000 on top of that. It was about a $56 grand exercise. And last year, we spent about $500o a round."

While around $80,000 for the first year's racing sounds expensive, with the Setons owning their car, this year's second season should only set them back around $25,000, providing Aaron races clean without damaging the car too much.

For that outlay, they get to race at five marquee Supercar events at Phillip Island, Townsville, Sydney Motorsport Park, Bathurst and the new-for-2017 Newcastle street race.

In all, Aaron will contest 15 races in front of an estimated 500,000 people. He will be exposed to a combined TV audience of nearly two million people across Foxtel and Channel 10 while also reaching 2.6 million people via Toyota's social media channels.

In short, the Toyota 86 Racing Series provides grassroots motorsport albeit at a professional level. And anyone doubting the ability of a low-cost, single-make series to help propel a driver into professional motorsport should listen to one driver who did exactly that.

“For me, this style of racing is something was really pivotal in terms of my career,” said five-time Australian Touring Car Champion and six-time Bathurst 1000 winner Mark Skaife. “When I was 19, I was racing in the one-make Ford Laser series and fortunately Barry Seton (father of Glenn) said to (Nissan Motorsport boss) Fred (Gibson) that he should look out for this young bloke in the red Laser.

“Fred went to Oran Park. Luckily that day I won and Fred made me an offer that year to join the Nissan Motorsport team."

The rest, as they say, is history, with Skaife regarded one of this country's finest race drivers, full stop.

Toyota is taking the idea of fostering and developing new talent seriously. That's why it has, and will continue with, a roster of big-name drivers on hand to not only mentor, but also race against the field of eager youngsters. Last year Steven Johnson, Alex Davison, Jonathon Webb, Leanne Tander and Glenn Seton all raced in the series at various times, providing the crop of young guns a chance to measure themselves against some of the best in the business.

Additionally, the star drivers mentored the youngsters, based on what they saw out on the track racing against them. It's an initiative that will again be used this year, with two experienced racers set to take the track while a third will offer mentoring from pitlane.

Also back for 2017 is the Series' generous prize pool of $125,000. The winner will pocket $50,000 while second and third in the end of year standings will walk away with $30,000 and $15,000 respectively.

It may not be a motorsport series with the profile of, say, V8 Supercars, but keep an eye on the field of youngsters striving to make a career out of motorsport. You never know, you just might be watching the rise of the next Mark Skaife or Glenn Seton.

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