Matthew Payne says he is taking his rookie Toyota Racing Series season one lap at a time, not letting points tallies or race wins deter him from his main goal of using the seat time as a training ground ahead of the Porsche Carrera Cup.
After a clean sweep in round two of the championship at Hampton Downs yesterday, Payne now heads the points table with four races in hand.
His incredible debut season has seen him finish on the podium in every race, with an average finishing position of 2.2.
Remarkably, before getting into a TRS car, Payne had only briefly experimented with open-wheelers.
A champion karter who spent the last two years competing over in Europe, Payne ran two rounds of Formula Ford before stepping up to TRS.
He says the graduation to TRS from karts was a difficult one to grasp. But he suggested that the rigorous nature of karting in Europe had trained him to take a fresh mindset into his rookie year.
“The step from karts was massive yeah, but I expected that,” Payne told Velocity News.
“Before my first TRS race I had only done two rounds of Formula Ford at Pukekohe and Hamptons, so I was pretty inexperienced in a race car.
“But I had also spent 13 years of my life in karting, and the last two of those were in Europe.
“What a lot of people, especially in New Zealand, may not realise is how challenging and professional karting is over in Europe.
“The drivers there give like 110 per cent each race. There were times when I was even like ‘why am I doing this? I can’t take it anymore.’
“But all of that pushed me to give the same amount of effort, which is the same mindset I have taken with me into TRS.”
The promising young gun added that his mentality for each TRS race is to take every passing lap as an opportunity to push further than before.
“The hardest part when I first got into the TRS car was finding the limit. Every time you turn in, you want to push to the absolute maximum before you start to get oversteer.
“But I mean haven’t even looked at points tables or race wins.
“Instead, I take it all one lap at a time. Each lap I keep pushing for more and more, trying to find that maximum limit and never once looking in the mirror.
“And there is always room for improvement, so I feel like going hard every lap means I always find somewhere or something to do better in.
“When I first got in the car, and even last weekend at the GP, my confidence was way down here (points to the ground). But now, it is sky high. And I think that just comes down to getting used to the car.”
Before his first race weekend, Payne said he intended to take the season as an opportunity to gain seat time before making his debut in the Australian Porsche Carrera Cup.
He confirmed that that intention is still the same now as it was then.
“I still am using TRS as a preparation for Carrera Cup.
“When Covid hit, I had to return to New Zealand. I was always going to step into the Porsche Carrera Cup this year. But because I had to give up karting in Europe my manager over in Australia was like ‘why don’t you get into a TRS car?’
“So, with the generous support of the Kiwi Driver Fund, I was able to do that.
“I am enjoying the racing. It was a challenge from karting, especially the wheel-to-wheel stuff, which I haven’t experienced.
“And I would absolutely like to return to the series another year. I reckon it is a great winter series and keeps up everyone’s mileage.”
The first two rounds of this year’s TRS have proven how complete Payne is behind the wheel of a single-seater.
But even still, the 18-year-old has his eyes set on a career racing cars with a little bit more overhead protection.
“GTs have been my focus for the last three years or so.
“Take my friend Liam [Lawson]. He spent his whole time in karts with his only focus being ‘single-seaters, single-seaters, single-seaters.’ And that is what he chased, and he is doing really well now.
“And yeah, there was a time when I thought about a career in single-seaters, but it was GT racing that really took my interest.
“I also really want to make a career out of racing. So, I reckon GTs will give me the best chance to do that.
“But it’s going to be cool to be a part of the Porsches when I get over to Australia.
“And for sure all the seat time and preparation I have had in TRS will be of value when I get in the car for the first time.”
Main Image: Matthew Hansen