Australian motorsport icon and Bathurst 1000 winner Jason Bargwanna and Supercars regular Warren Luff will debut as invited drivers for the first event of the Toyota 86 Racing Series at the Phillip Island 500 from April 21 to 23.
The 2017 season of the Toyota 86 Racing Series will see each race grid joined by two invited professional drivers, with a third taking a non-driving role as mentor throughout race meetings.
Bargwanna and Luff will be joined at Phillip Island by Leanne Tander, the first woman to win an Australian national circuit racing title, who will act as mentor and lead driver development activities over the race weekend.
The impending race is the series' first visit to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. Renowned for high speed and flowing corners, the 12 turns of the circuit are mooted to challenge both series sophomores and newcomers.
A full grid of 38 cars is listed to start.
Motorsport hero Bargwanna has 378 races over 13 Supercars seasons and a Bathurst 1000 victory to his name. A two-time New Zealand Touring Car Champion driving a V8-powered Toyota Camry, Bargwanna is buoyant about the opportunity to drive wheel-to-wheel and offer off-track advice to Australia's racing future.
"Over the last 12 months the Toyota 86 Racing Series has proven to be very competitive, so I'm not expecting a walk in the park. There are some very talented young guys and that's the future of Australian motorsport. I hope to mix it with them and share some knowledge."
Bargwanna, whose history with Toyota motorsports goes back to the early 1990s, said while he would act as mentor, his race day intentions were not mid-pack.
"I can help them with on-track requirements, but it's more the activities off-track where they need the experience. They are capable race car drivers, but things like engagement with media, networking, talking to sponsors, engaging with fans, and behaviour on social media: that's where I think I can make a real difference.
"You don't forget how to be a competitive race driver. You put a helmet on and you want to beat the other 30-odd cars out there. I look forward to the battle," he said.
Toyota 86 Racing Series category manager Neil Crompton said Phillip Island was the ideal place to start the season.
"Phillip Island is one of Australia's best circuits. It's a high-speed track and it's very technical. We have a real mix of experience and a dense grid, so we are expecting some fantastic passing and on-track action.
"The 2017 season is shaping up as a strong one and we cannot wait to get these guys on a hot track and racing," Crompton said.
The Phillip Island 500 will begin on Friday April 21 and conclude on Sunday April 23. The Toyota 86 Racing Series will be on track from 10:55am on Friday for Practice 1.
10:55 to 11:15 - T86RS Practice 1
13:55 to 14:15 - T86RS Practice 2
10:50 to 11:05 - T86RS Qualifying (15 mins)
13:55 to 14:15 - T86RS Race 1 (8 laps)
09:40 to 10:05 - T86RS Race 2 (10 laps)
12:00 - 12:20 - T86RS Race 3 (8 laps)
THE TOYOTA 86 RACING SERIES
The Toyota 86 Racing Series is designed to provide an entry point and training ground for up-and-coming drivers, offering a confirmed prize pool of $125,000.
Open to variants of Toyota's cult-classic sports car, the series is part of the support program at selected rounds of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
In 2017 the Toyota 86 Racing Series will run over five events: Phillip Island 500 (April 21-23), Townsville 400 (July 7-9), Sydney SuperSprint (August 18-20), Bathurst 1000 (October 5-8) and Newcastle 500 (November 24-26).
For regular updates and more information go to https://toyota.com.au/86/racing-series.
In 2017, Toyota marks the 60th anniversary of its first international motorsport entry (and the first by a Japanese car manufacturer), when it contested the 1957 Round Australia Trial. This is why many people consider Australia to be the birthplace of Toyota motorsport. Today, Toyota contests the FIA-sanctioned World Rally Championship (WRC), World Endurance Championship (WEC) which features the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the gruelling Dakar Rally. Closer to home, the Toyota 86 Racing Series seeks to develop the talent of tomorrow as Australia's premier grassroots circuit-racing category.