Wednesday, May 16 07:52pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Toyota graduates to make GT3 debut in MIKE Racing Mercedes-Benz

MIKE Racing has confirmed the final line up for the second Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 in the ever expanding stable.


Castrol Toyota Racing Series driver Reid Harker, 22, and reigning Toyota 86 Championship winner Jack Milligan, 21, will both make their respective GT3 racing debuts this weekend.


Hampton Downs Motorsport Park will play host to the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series where nearly 60 cars will race across the One and Three Hour races.


The pair were selected following MIKE Racing’s Young Driver Audition, which took place in early April at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon.


The team are currently based out of Palmerston North where they house three SLS GT3s, a Porsche 911 997 and an Aston Martin Vantage GT4.


Harker and Milligan spoke with ahead of Winter season starter, which will see them contest for outright honours and for bragging rights in the GT-A division.


The pair have had limited on-track experience in the GT3 machine, though it’ll hopefully be an easy transition for Harker who's had wings-and-slicks experience this year in the Toyota Racing Series.


“I haven’t had a whole lot of time to learn the differences between the two [FT50 and SLS], but I adapted pretty quick and felt comfortable by the end of it,” he said.


“It’s heavier, that’s probably the main difference. It doesn’t quite handle like a single-seater car does. It’s not too much of a transition between the two though, so I’m looking forward to it.”


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Reid Harker (left) and Jack Milligan will race a Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 for the first time this weekend 


Harker and Milligan are realistic about their targets on debut. Despite having no racing miles in the car they’re hopeful they can be competitive.


“I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t be competing up the front, Harker said.


“We’re in a competitive car that can do it, so we’ll be eying up the front of the grid.


“I’m excited to be in a car that can be running at the front and not trying to maximise what you have to run mid-pack.


“Being in a car you know that you can be running up the front is pretty exciting and something I’m looking forward to.”


The step up from Toyota 86 to SLS GT3 will be a substantial one for Milligan this weekend.


Unlike Harker, Milligan hasn’t had and close combat wings-and-slicks racing. However, he has been getting some mileage at Highlands Motorsport Park in their Porsche 997 GT3 Cup car to experience similar racing speeds.


“I think the car itself should be relatively easy to drive, it’ll just be getting the last two to three tenths out of it,” Milligan said.


“If we’re top five I’ll be pretty pleased. Being with the MIKE Racing team it’s all very professional, so if we can finish up there it’d be a pretty big achievement considering we’ve done no testing at all.”


Team owner Mike Chua is taking a bigger picture approach to the whole season. This year the team will campaign in the North and South Island Endurance Series. From there they’re hoping to develop their squad of racing drivers with the goal of getting overseas.


Chua, who hails from Malaysia, wants to take the racing team back to Asia in the future. Chua raced in Malaysia but recently moved to New Zealand having seen what Kiwi racing drivers were capable of in Asia.  


Chua said he believes bringing on Harker and Milligan was a sensible choice, and he believes they’ve got what it takes to be frontrunners.


“Reid and Jack have a very good profile, they’ve got the experience,” he said.


“Where they’ve come from, the Toyota 86 Championship, that is a good platform for a driver to be in for tin top racing.”


“For me at the end of the day these guys are very positive drivers. We looked at Jack and his entire season and how he performed and how he handled the car and the competition. It’s the same thing with Reid, he’s come a long way.


“What we like about him is his consistency. He’s a very conservative driver and knows his limits.”


With a vision to take some, if not all, of his drivers to Asia at some point, Chua said getting them in the SLS is the first step towards helping them achieve the goal of getting full-time GT3 drives.  


Understanding that the drivers have had no seat time in the SLS, Chua said he doesn’t expect the team will get brilliant results from the outset. However, he does want to see consistency.  


It’ll be the first time the team have run two of their gullwing SLS’ when the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series kicks off this weekend.


MIKE Racing will later this week launch the livery for the sister ITM-backed SLS to be driven by Brendon Leitch and Christina Orr-West.