Kelly Racing Supercars star André Heimgartner has become the latest name to be confirmed for January’s New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.
Heimgartner joins Supercars rival Shane van Gisbergen, three-time winner Kenny Smith, and karting prodigy Matthew Payne on the grid, as the Castrol Toyota Racing Series continues to roll out announcements around its three-round 2021 calendar.
“I have done quite a bit of Formula Ford in the earlier seasons of my career between 2009 and 2013,” Heimgartner said.
“I did several series including the South Island Formula Ford Championship and the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship and won a few.
“I did some Formula Ford in Australia around that time too but at that stage the question was really which direction I wanted my career to go in. For us we didn’t have the money to go over to Europe and pursue single seater racing there.
“That meant I never did the TRS series back then because of that and because of the direction we chose. At the time I was pretty upset about that because growing up we had high level top tier motorsport in New Zealand.
“The early years of TRS were part of that of course with some great names in New Zealand and international racing. Dan Gaunt, Earl Bamber, Mitch Evans and many more and I used to watch them and think it would be awesome to race them. But it wasn’t to be and we headed over to Australia and obviously it has worked out well for me.”
Ironically, Heimgartner is one of the few current overseas-based Kiwi circuit racers to have not competed in TRS, having jumped straight from Formula Ford competition to ‘tin top’ categories like Carrera Cup Australia and the V8 SuperTourers.
Still, the 25-year-old’s open-wheel resume is impressive, boasting two New Zealand Formula Ford Championship titles. It will be the first time he’s raced an open-wheel car since 2012. In preparation for the challenge, Heimgartner recently competed two tests in a Toyota FT-60 TRS car at Hampton Downs.
“The prospect of racing in the New Zealand Grand Prix is very exciting for me though,” he added.
“It is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and it’s definitely a bucket list item. I’ve obviously watched it many times and followed it since I was young, seeing the likes of Kenny Smith come back again and again.
“The car is very exciting. Modern, fast, challenging to drive. There’s plenty of aero and it’s very different to a V8 Supercar which has lots of power and not much grip. The single seater is lighter has more grip but less horsepower.
“The adjustment required from a driver for this transition will depend a lot on the driver themselves. I’ve driven plenty of cars apart from Supercars and many of them recently, including TCR cars, GT cars and even Toyota 86s.
“Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and I even did speedway for a while so jumping into a car with different characteristics is not something I consider a major issue for me. I have a good idea of what to expect and how to adjust.
“It’s going to be interesting and I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. These young kids, they’re bloody fast. You only need to watch them race once to see that.
“I almost feel like an old guy at 25. It will be very interesting and drivers will go into it aiming to have fun. But of course when the gloves are on and we get into the cars, we only want to win.”
Heimgartner approaches the Grand Prix coming off a positive Supercars season with Kelly Racing. Despite the challenge of the team having to adapt to a pair of new Ford Mustangs, Heimgartner was able to claim two second-place finishes across the season (one at Sydney Motorsport Park, the other at The Bend).
The New Zealand Grand Prix takes place on January 23–24, with round two and three of the series (held at Hampton Downs and Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, respectively) to follow on January 29–30 and February 12–13, respectively.