Young-gun drivers have dominated the top 10 positions in the 2017 Toyota 86 Racing Series, confirming its status as a competitive grassroots development category.
Sydney’s Jimmy Vernon, 20, triumphed in the series ahead of Canberra’s Cameron Hill, who turned 21 in the last week of racing at the Newcastle street circuit.
South African born Sydneysider Dylan Thomas was third overall, with the top three receiving cash prizes from the overall $125,000 series prize money.
Hill recorded the most race victories this year while Vernon scored the most podium finishes, with 13 from the season’s 14 completed races.
Melburnian Jack Klein, who was eighth overall, received the prized Kaizen Award for continuous improvement, which includes competing in a round of the 2018 New Zealand 86 Racing Series.
There were six drivers under 22 in the series top ten – Vernon, Hill, Klein, Liam McAdam, Aaron Seton and final day podium finisher Aaron Borg.
Fifteen drivers were still in with a mathematical chance of finishing in the series top three going into the final round.
The 2017 season saw drivers compete at five circuits with particular demands -Phillip Island, Townsville street circuit, Sydney Motorsport Park, Mount Panorama and the Newcastle street circuit.
A driver completing all the races would have covered 126 laps or 483km of door-to-door competition.
Toyota Australia’s executive director sales and marketing Tony Cramb said motorsport officials and enthusiasts agreed the 86 series had come along at exactly the right time.
“The Toyota 86 Racing Series is attracting enthusiasts, particularly young people with raw motorsport talent that can be developed into successful careers,” Mr Cramb said.
Mr Cramb praised the work of Toyota 86 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada and his team of designers and engineers, for creating “such a dynamic little sports car”.
Sixty drivers scored points during the 2017 season and 13 different drivers featured on the podium this season, including the four race winners – Hill, Warren Luff, Vernon and Gulson. Hill won eight races, Vernon four, Gulson and Luff one each.
The other podium finishers were: Damon Strongman, Dylan Thomas, Trent Grubel, Aaron Seton, Tim Brook, Ben Grice, New Zealand guest driver Jack Milligan at Bathurst, Steve Owen and Aaron Borg.
The 14 invited drivers this year included motor sport royalty, with Le Mans 24-Hour winner David Brabham, and Bathurst 1000 winners Jason Bargwanna and Jonathon Webb.
Other invited drivers were Warren Luff (the only invited driver to win a race), Dean Canto, Alex Davison, Steven Johnson, Harry Bates, Leanne Tander and Rick Bates as a driver mentor.
The largest round entries were 38 cars at Phillip Island and 37 at Bathurst. Competitors came from all States and the ACT, as well as overseas drivers from New Zealand and the UK.
Four in ten competitors were under 21 and the number listing their occupation as “student” was in double figures.
Remarkably, the Toyota 86 Racing Series is the only motor sport category in Australia where young drivers can compete against drivers who have won the Le Mans 24-Hour, Bathurst 1000, Bathurst 12-Hour, the Australian V8 Supercars Endurance Series and the Australian Formula Ford Series.
All competitors drive identical Toyota 86 sports cars, with a performance kit developed by Neal Bates Motorsport and ‘control’ Dunlop road tyres.
Each competitor is allocated four new tyres per round, prior to the qualifying session. More than 800 Dunlop tyres were used during the 2017 series. All cars are lubricated with Toyota Genuine Motor Oil.
The Hino 700 Series race transporter covered almost 8000km over the five race weekend, helping to transport support equipment and selected cars.
Competitors used more than 9000 litres of petrol across the five rounds.
Organisers estimated the total television audience at up to two million viewers, as well as 500,000 trackside spectators and 2.5 million viewers on social media, with hundreds of thousands of video views.
Next year’s third instalment of the Toyota 86 Racing Series expands to six rounds, including the first visit to South Australia for the new Bend Motorsport Park at Tailem Bend, and a return to Melbourne’s Sandown circuit.
Races will also be held at Phillip Island, Townsville, Bathurst and Newcastle.