With multiple international championship wins to his name, single seater and GT specialist Chris van der Drift will line up for the 66th running of the New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs in January as a potential winner.
The entry will be underpinned by the Tasman Motorsports Group team of former Indy Lights and CART team owners Steve and Christine Horne.
Van der Drift has an impressive international racing resume with three European championships to his name – in Formula BMW, Formula Renault 2.0 and International Formula Masters as well as race starts in categories such as A1GP, Superleague Formula and World Series by Renault. Add to that he is also a three-time Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion and won the most recent Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship.
Slated as one of the race favourites, the 34-year-old now resides in Hamilton having forged most of his racing career overseas. He has done limited racing in his home country, but is eager to add a New Zealand Grand Prix title to his resumé.
“As a New Zealander I’ve never done a lot of racing here. I did some karting here, a little bit in Australia then went off to Europe,” said van der Drift. “Up until this year, all I’ve done in New Zealand was one single seater race here – the Grand Prix in 2006, an A1GP round and two V8 SuperTourer rounds. COVID-19 has prevented a great deal more this year.
“Just as much for me as for Steve and Christine, it’s a box I would like to tick. I’ve had just one shot at it in the past. Now to have another chance, I’m pumped. And clearly the record of Steve and Christine and what they have achieved speaks for itself.
“There are some very good drivers who are going to be out there too. I’m going for the win, this is my chance to do it, I feel good and I’m driving well. Once the entry list is finalised, I think it’s going to be quite a spectacle.”
For Steve Horne, Team Principal and co-owner of Tasman Motorsports Group, one of New Zealand’s most successful international motorsport teams, a New Zealand Grand Prix win is a ‘bucket list’ item.
“My father George was on the original New Zealand Grand Prix committee back in the early 50’s. I watched my first Grand Prix back in 1957 when it was won by Reg Parnell, that’s probably what ignited my passion for the sport,” says Horne.
Since those early days, Horne went on to forge an impressive career in international motorsport, leading the Truesports Indycar team to an Indy 500 victory in 1986 with Bobby Rahal before founding his own team in 1992.
From there, Tasman Motorsports Group went on to claim close to 40 race victories which contributed to four Indy Lights Championships with winning drivers Steve Robertson, Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Christiano da Matta – da Matta going on to race for Toyota in Formula One in 2004/2005.
Other drivers who have raced under the Tasman Motorsport Group banner include Andre Ribeiro, Helio Castroneves, Scott Goodyear, Adrián Fernández and Neil Crompton. More recently in New Zealand they campaigned a V8 SuperTourer with Daniel Gaunt and Andrew Waite (both Toyota Racing Series graduates), claiming multiple podiums and wins with Mark Pilcher from M2 Competition as Team Manager.
“We’ve followed Chris’ career closely, he knows how to win, and he’s proven that in nearly everything he’s raced in,” added Horne. We’ve won some big races in the US with some great world class drivers, but we’ve never entered the Grand Prix here. To win it, would be pretty special for Christine and I – it’s a bucket list race for us, we are excited to put a car on the grid.
“Toyota have done a fantastic job to bring this high level single seater in the form of the FT60 to New Zealand circuits and the work that Hampton Downs and SpeedWorks Events are doing to raise the profile of the event is to be commended.”
The livery of the van der Drift Toyota FT60 car is a throwback to the heritage of the Tasman Motorsports Group team, mirroring the livery of the LCI sponsored Reynard CART chassis campaigned by the team in the mid-90s.
The MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned event doubles as the opening round of the championship. A joint venture by Hampton Downs and SpeedWorks Events, it will run over the weekend of January 22nd-24th with practice, qualifying and two races for drivers before the New Zealand Grand Prix itself on Sunday 24th over 28 laps of the circuit.
It will be the first time the Grand Prix has been held at the North Waikato circuit and the first time any Castrol Toyota Racing Series event has been held on the longer and more challenging 4km international format track which has ten corners and a current lap record of 1 minute 27.637 seconds.