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Rooney wants rookie honours – and more

Hot on the heels of his big win in the Hampton Downs Academy Shootout last week, Hawke’s Bay driver Jackson Rooney has today confirmed his first season in cars will be in the 2023-2024 Toyota 86 Championship.

The 19-year-old heavy transport engineer has been karting since he was just six, has raced internationally and has numerous regional and North Island titles to his name. But this season he wanted to step up to cars and the Toyota 86 Championship was his first choice.

“I’ve been watching it for some time thinking it was the best possible step up after karts,” he said. “The racing is close, its competitive and the opportunities for anyone doing well are significant.”

Race winning team RaceLab will oversee his 2023-2024 campaign and have been running him in testing at Hampton Downs, Taupo, and Manfeild in recent months. He’s also worked hard on sponsorship and will carry the colours of NAPA, Real Steal and Ryco amongst others for the full season.

Not only that, but he also has former champion and rising Kiwi star Callum Hedge in his camp, a notable ally as he gets ready for his first season circuit racing.

“It’s a big change from karting,” he added. “In many ways everything you have learned has to be put to one side and you must learn a whole new technique and some specific things about the Toyota 86.

“Callum has been brilliant in helping me in those areas and in making the transition to a tin top. I’m enjoying the engineering side also, picking over the data and looking to see what I am doing and how I can improve.”

It’s not unreasonable to expect Rooney to quickly become a pacesetter but he’s keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “I know how tough the racing is in this championship and I know consistency is vital, but I’m aiming to learn quickly and keep improving. If I do that well I should be in with a chance of being competitive in the rookie championship and beyond that, I’ll go for it if there’s an opportunity for more.”

The 11th Toyota 86 Championship begins on November 17th at Taupo Motorsport Park and there is huge interest already from young and experienced drivers. The six round championship includes circuits in both the North and South Island and the category will be the main support for the New Zealand Grand Prix when it runs for the first time at Highlands Motorsport Park in February.

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