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Four-way contest for Toyota 86 shoot-out

Four budding race car drivers will face off for a $37,500 cash prize this coming week in the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy Toyota 86 shoot-out.

All four are committed to racing in the 2023/24 New Zealand Toyota 86 championship for the identical 86 sport coupes but only one will walk away with the financial prize put up by the Tony Quinn Foundation.

Mitchell Sparrow, 17 from Tuakau won his chance to enter after winning New Zealand’s premiere kart racing series, Pro Kart, which awarded him a test drive in a TR 86 race car. He then had a day with the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy (HDNZRA) and was recently selected as one of the finalists.

“The whole day and the learnings from it all was super awesome, so well executed and professionally run. It’s something I’d wanted to do for a while and it led on to the opportunity to have a crack at the shoot-out,” said Sparrow.

As soon as the year 13 student at Tuakau College was 16 years old he got his driver’s licence in a manual gear shift car for the sole purpose of preparing to race cars.

“Gear changing wasn’t a surprise when I got in the 86. The biggest challenge was to learn the heel and toe technique and the timing of it when driving the car.”

Hunter Robb, a 16 year old engineer in his family’s business, comes into the HDNZRA Shoot-out a champion of the BMW E36 one-make series and has already been on the podium in limited outings in a TR 86 race car.

Moving from the BMW to the Toyota is a difficult step so Robb took the opportunity to compete in two rounds of last season’s series. Drivers may compete in two rounds and still retain a rookie status for a forthcoming series.

Robb raced at the NZGP meeting at Hampton Downs, where he gained a fifth and a sixth placing, and followed that up with a drive in the final round in which he finished on the podium twice.

“To be running up the front was above our expectations,” said Robb. “The 86 is a lot more hands on compared to the BMW, and the racing is a lot more aggressive as well. A lot more elbows out, which I like.”

Jackson Rooney heads into the shoot-out with an impressive karting resume which includes championship wins in both New Zealand and Australia. The 19-year-old engineer from Hawkes Bay started racing karts aged six and won his place in the final four following a test day in June and then a HDNZRA day from which he was also selected.

“Car racing is a whole new challenge,” he said. “Everything I’ve learnt in karting so far has gone out the window. I’m enjoying learning a whole new driving style and techniques.”

Second-year commerce student from Christchurch, Cormac Murphy, is returning to the HDRA shoot-out after making the finals last year as a complete novice race car driver.

“Last August was the first time I stepped into a race car with the Hampton Downs Racing Academy and three months later I was in the final shoot-out,” said Murphy. “I’ve done quite a lot more since then so hopefully I can do a better performance this time.”

In the past twelve months the 19-year-old youngest son of V8 Supercar legend Greg Murphy has competed in several North Island endurance series rounds behind the wheel of a TR 86. The highlight was his drive at the Pukekohe race track before its closure.

“Dad obviously has his share of memories there. My brother Ronan raced a couple of rounds in 86 at Pukekoke and I’m really stoked that I got to drive there and experience it before it closed down.”

As a returning finalist to the HDNZRA shoot-out Murphy knows what he needs to do to have the best chance of winning the prize money.

“Being smooth and not make any mistakes. The philosophy of driving an 86 is pretty unusual in a way, it’s a very unique car to drive fast,” he said.

“Learning how to drive them on their limit has been the biggest challenge but I think we’re really starting to get there, still a little bit more to go.”

The four contestants will face-off in the HDRA Shoot-out next Wednesday, September 6th.

The day will start with a familiarisation run on the Hampton Downs circuit before they each do a Qualifying simulation and then a longer ‘race run’ over which they will be judged on their driving and technical feedback.

Off track there will be a commercial component and they will be questioned and interviewed by TQF Trustees Steve Horne, Josie Spillane and John Gordon. Recently signed Jaguar Formula E racer Nick Cassidy, back in New Zealand for his off-season, will be a special guest to the on-track judging panel.

HDNZRA chief instructor Daniel Gaunt says over 77 drivers have gone through the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy which qualifies them for selection.

“It’s always hard to narrow it down to the final four,” said Gaunt. “I think we have a really good selection of drivers that will fight it out on Wednesday to represent the Tony Quinn Foundation in the TR 86 championship.”

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