The money has to be on Russian Artem Markelov to win the five round 2016 Toyota Racing Series that gets underway in Christchurch this weekend. Compared to the other 18 drivers on the grid, the Russian GP2 driver has the best race experience and maturity to win races and ultimately the driver’s title.
This is the second time the 21 year old has come to New Zealand to compete. In his first season of TRS he finished eighth but then went on to finish 13th in his second season of GP2 in 2015, improving from 24th in 2014. This included a podium in Germany. 2016 will see him compete in his third GP2 season with his aim to finish in the top three.
The GP2 Series is one category below Formula One and brings with it all the trappings, pressure, stress and experience a competitor needs in order to enter the ultimate goal of being a F1 driver.
This experience is his strength while arguably his weakness is his ability to finish races. History has shown that to win the Toyota Racing Series a driver must be consistent and finish races higher than his competitors.
But what of his TRS competition? Three drivers will also be top contenders, Lando Norris, James Munro and Pedro Piquet.
Norris is the youngest winner of a World Kartsport Championship, a remarkable feat given the competition at this level. Last year he competed in and won the British Formula 4 Series with an impressive eight wins and six second places in the 30 race series. He brings with him plenty of ‘wings’ and ‘slicks’ single seater experience in this category which fits between Formula Ford and TRS.
Kiwi James Munro is entering his third TRS season. He knows how to win races and championships, having won the 2013 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, the 2014 Formula Masters China series and the GTC class at the Sepang 12 Hours in Malaysia in 2015. He seems to be in the right head space and has a wealth of track experience at home.
Piquet returns two years after initially faltering in the series due to licensing issues. Since then he has focused on single seater racing in Brazil, dominating their F3 Championship last year winning 14/16 races. Like Norris, he also has plenty of single-seater experience but it is hard to gauge the level of competition he has faced at home.
None of these three have the experience of Markelov, and this is his advantage. But for any of them to win the 2016 Toyota Racing Series you must finish more races and score more points than the opposition.