More than half the grid lined up for the season opener of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Australia (TGRA) 86 Series at Bathurst recently were new to the series as the grassroots support category for the 2021 Supercars Championship kicked off its fifth season.
Among the fresh faces to get behind the wheel of a Toyota 86 race car for a season of wheel-to-wheel action were two young female drivers – Holly Espray and Maddy Dunston – and Clay Richards, who takes the Richards racing dynasty into its third generation with Clay
being the son of five-time Bathurst 1000 winner Steven and grandson of touring car legend Jim.
Zach Bates represented another legendary motorsport family – son of Rick, nephew of four-time Australian rally champion Neal Bates and cousin of current Australian rally champion Harry Bates – when the 16-year old got behind the wheel of a Toyota 86 at Bathurst.
Also racing in the 2021 TGRA 86 season, although they were not on the first Bathurst grid due to age restrictions, are three 15-year-olds – Kai Allen, Hayden Hume and Connor Roberts, who are all graduating out of very successful karting careers.
The first TGRA 86 Series round at Bathurst had a touch of royalty with Prince Jefri Ibrahim of Johor (Malaysia) getting behind the wheel of an 86 for a one-off test of the iconic Mount Panorama circuit supported by Triple Eight Race Engineering.
Toyota Australia chief marketing officer John Pappas said it was fantastic to see such a diverse and fresh field of entrants for the 2021 season. “When we first launched the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Australia 86 Series back in 2016, one of the aims was to provide a grassroots one-make series that really offered aspiring professional race drivers – and passionate enthusiasts – the opportunity to learn and hone their race-craft in a like-minded community,” Mr Pappas said.
“Over the years, we have seen many drivers really develop from the experience and mentoring the series provides with a number of drivers going on to race in higher-level categories. “Our inaugural season winner, the now 22-year-old Will Brown, is making his Supercars debut next weekend at Bathurst driving for the Erebus Motorsport team.
“With the field of talented youngsters – and some returning veterans – that we have lining up on the grid for 2021, we would not be surprised to see some of them continuing on to become some of Australia’s best race drivers,” he said.
Joining the field of newcomers were a number of returning drivers to set the pace including Cameron Crick, who kicked off his fourth season in the TGRA 86 Series after finishing in third place in the 2018 season and the 2019 Kaizen award winner Lachlan Gibbons. This year, the season will comprise five rounds run as a support category at Supercars Championship rounds at Bathurst (twice), Winton, Townsville and Sydney.
The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Australia 86 Series is designed as an affordable grassroots series that delivers plenty of racing action for fans and a perfect development environment for drivers. All competitors drive a near identical Toyota 86 that has been modified with a high performance affordable race package that can have them on the track for about $50,000 including the cost of the original road car.
Developed by Neal Bates Motorsport, the race package includes upgraded brakes, suspension, exhaust and engine components. Control Dunlop tyres are fitted along with a roll-cage and race seat. Top-three place rewards for the year are $50,000, $30,000 and $15,000 with the coveted Kaizen Award for continuous improvement valued up to $35,000.