Exton and Bewley book their places on 2023 Toyota 86 grid
A successful shoot-out for William Exton and Tom Bewley at the annual Hampton Down NZ Racing Academy guarantees both will be part of the 2023 Toyota 86 Championship.
As the grid for the season begins to take shape, 18-year-old Exton and 15-year-old Bewley will be exciting additions to the six round championship which begins at Highlands Motorsport Park in January, just a couple of months away.
Exton topped the three-way shoot out at the North Waikato circuit earlier this week, bagging a cash prize of $37,500 from the Tony Quinn Foundation towards his season in the Toyota 86 Championship. Bewley was hot on his heels and his $10,000 prize also locks in his spot on the 2023 grid. Third placed Cormac Murphy – another significant prospect for the future – also impressed and has secured more time at the Academy to develop his circuit skills.
Blenheim racer Exton has already raced a Toyota 86 in two endurance events to get mileage under his belt as he switches to circuit racing from a highly impressive six-year career in karting.
That run of success included championship wins in 2017 in a 100cc Junior Yamaha in the Kartsport NZ South Island Championship and the Schools Championship – a feat he repeated in 2019. In 2021 he was Kartsport NZ National Sprint champion in the Rotax Max Light class. A long list of race wins and top three finishes in other championships mark him out as a special talent.
Although three years younger, Bewley is also a karting sensation and another to never finish outside of the top three in the karting championships he has competed in. Since 2016, he’s also been crowned champ in the Rotax Junior class in Kartsport’s North Island Sprint Championship in 2020 and the 2022 Auckland City of Sails competition.
Both impressed Steve Horne, who judges the annual shoot-out for the TQ Foundation. Horne is a motorsport legend who as a team manager and then a team owner won the Indianapolis 500, two CART championships and five Indy Lights titles. The Kiwi knows talent when he sees it.
“First of all, every one of the finalists had done exceptionally well to make it that far from a group that was originally probably more than 70 strong,” he said.
“All went through a three phase process which I often refer to as the three-legged stool. Those legs are performance on the race track, technical and engineering skills off it and finally their ability to understand the commercial side of the sport. The track time was essentially a replication of a race day, with ten laps familiarisation, ten laps qualifying and then a race simulation for ten laps.
“What I noticed particularly about William and Tom was that they were up to speed and on the gas immediately. For me that has always been a good sign with any driver, whatever level they are competing at. I saw it in my Indy Lights team with Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan and I’ve seen it with many others too.
“Both boys were able to communicate well with the engineers and interpret changes in the car and work on improving car set up. Commercially William has already raised money for his motorsport in Blenheim and really just edged Tom on experience in that regard. Tom’s younger and I feel will definitely develop the commercial skills required in the sport if he keeps improving at the rate he is.
“Overall though, two very impressive young racers and it will be great to watch them go head to head in the Toyota 86 Championship.”
Exton and Bewley will now knuckle down to some testing in their Toyota 86s to ensure they are at the sharp end of the grid when the championship begins in the New Year. They are exciting prospects for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing New Zealand Motorsport Manager Nicolas Caillol too, who has seen some amazing talent in the ultra-competitive championship over the past few seasons.
“We have indeed seen plenty of talent emerge from karting and use the Toyota 86 Championship as a springboard for international campaigns, just look at former champions Ryan Wood and Callum Hedge who are on the radar of all major teams in Australia and doing very well in Porsche racing.
“For us at TGRNZ we are always looking forward and ensuring the championship does it’s bit for finding New Zealand’s next World Champion. William and Tom will both be excellent additions to what is shaping up to be another superb field of talented drivers.
“It’s also fantastic that the TQ Foundation is helping them make that next big step.”
2023 Toyota 86 Championship
Rd1 13-15 January 2023 – Highlands Motorsport Park
Rd2 20-22 January 2023 – Teretonga Park
Rd3 3-5 February 2023 – Hampton Downs Motorsport Park
Rd4 17-19 March 2023 – Taupo International Motorsport Park
Rd5 14-16 April 2023 – Manfeild – Circuit Chris Amon
Rd6 To be confirmed