Fresh off the announcement from Toyota GAZOO Racing NZ that the mantle of “Finding NZs Next World Champion” has now been passed to Nicolas “Nico” Caillol (pronounced “Cay-oll”), I sat down with this extremely talented and experienced race car engineer, coach and now TGRNZ Motorsport Manager to understand more about what drives this car-mad engineer to help so many Kiwi drivers on their pathway to stardom.
Nico speaks four languages, he has a Masters Degree in Automotive Engineering, Aerodynamics and Technical Project Management and spent his formative years growing up around racing cars in his native Toulouse in France. It was inevitable he would catch the motorsport “bug” and his pathway would then be set.
Nico learned his craft in the European single-seater scene, starting as a data engineer in the A1GP World Series and Renault 3.5 World Series before moving his way up as a race engineer through different junior drivers series such as Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0 (European & Chinese) right through to the top tier of Formula Le Mans (LMP3), Super League Formula and becoming Team Manager for Jenzer Motorsport GP3. All these teams have tasted success with international championship wins.
After his first taste of New Zealand in 2008 with the A1GP in Taupo, a chance affiliation with racing team M2 Competition brought Nico back to New Zealand in 2012 and a connection with the Toyota Racing Series was forged….the rest they say, is history!
Now a resident in Te Kauwhata, near Hampton Downs and a familiar face to all drivers and crews up and down pit lane, the next steps for Nico are to take the TGRNZ business to the next level and continue building on the great work he commenced while TRS Category Manager.
RB: So, what does Nico see as the next big challenge?
NC: “The focus of TGRNZ is still to find NZ’s next World Champion, giving all young talents in New Zealand a clear pathway for their future steps (in single seater or tin top)” says Nico. “The Castrol Toyota Racing Series and the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championships are now embarking on their respective 18th and 9th season(s), having established themselves as the top-tier categories in New Zealand Motorsport.”
“The upgrade to the Formula Regional type chassis for TRS in additional to recognition of the F1 Super Licence scheme has given a rare opportunity to kiwi drivers to benchmark themselves against the best drivers on the international scene”.
It is amazing to think that in the last 10 years, 19 drivers who competed in TRS have reached Formula One (as a test or racing driver) and that we have currently 5 alumni on the 2021 Formula One grid (Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Yuki Tsunoda, Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin).
NC: “Toyota New Zealand is a great support to TGRNZ and is committed to ongoing support of the Castrol Toyota Racing Series and the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championships in the future. Both categories will continue to stay in the NZ Motorsport scene for a long time.” adds Caillol.
“TGRNZ is committed to helping drivers moving forward and will keep developing and strengthening its different partnerships. The Road to Indy partnership is developing, with Billy Frazer and Peter Vodanovich capitalising on the incentive put in place to make their move to USF2000. The recent announcement of the test drive with the Triple Eight V8 Supercar team is a great step in offering a pathway for a Toyota 86 Champion.”
“We shouldn’t forget the amazing help Kiwi Driver Fund has put in place in the last 6 years to help young NZ drivers compile the budget to be able to compete in TRS. Without their contribution, many kiwis wouldn’t have been able to be on the grid.”
TGRNZ has offered a great platform for young drivers to be noticed by Formula One Young Driver programmes with the latest example being Liam Lawson and Igor Fraga being picked up by Red Bull after their successful season in TRS.” beams a proud Nico.
RB: What is your opinion on the quality of the Kiwi drivers and the feeder series’ in this country?
NC: “I have been amazed how, despite being a small country with only 5M inhabitants, New Zealand has been able to produce great talent worldwide such as Scott Dixon, Brendon Hartley, Nick Cassidy, Mitch Evans and Earl Bamber (without forgetting the next Formula One hopefuls Marcus Armstrong and Liam Lawson). One of the main reasons for me is because drivers can start driving in some fierce battles in quality fields of Formula First, Formula Ford or Toyota 86 at young ages.”
“It is a unique opportunity for young kiwi drivers to be able to drive single seaters or tin tops from 12 years of age and start developing their race craft. Those categories are all about positioning, slip streaming and close battles on track. TGRNZ is committed to work with those series, adding incentives to the administrators to help grow the quality of their fields. The stronger these series, the better it will be for TR86 and TRS to have stronger grids.”
RB: Do you have a view on EV race cars and how these might fit into the NZ racing landscape?
NC: “EV race cars are maybe the future for racing but because of its high cost for junior categories, it is still quite some time away. In the meantime, there is some work being completed in Europe on the development of an eFuel which is anticipated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85%. Toyota New Zealand and TGRNZ is fully immersed in sustainability and looking at ways of doing better, so we are keeping an eye on any development possible. Is the solution only electric? Maybe not?” advises Nico.
Caillol has been the catalyst for many now-famous racing driver careers, most recently he has helped catapult Matthew Payne and Kaleb Ngatoa into the single-seater international limelight. Many may not know that he was the race engineer of Lando Norris (2016) and Nick Cassidy (2012) during their successful campaigns to a TRS title.
Current and ex-drivers, Chris van der Drift in Super League Formula (2010), Ben Hanley (FR3.5, SLF), Arjun Maini (GP3), Neel Jani (SLF), Timmy Hansen (FR2.0) credit Nico for helping them develop the skills required to survive at the pinnacles of international motorsport. Attention to detail and extreme accuracy are two attributes that a top-level racing driver needs to possess, and these skills allow drivers Être le meilleur (“to be the best”).
RB: What do you see as the most important thing a young racing driver can do to advance their career?
NC: “The main thing young racing drivers need to understand if they want to advance their career is that motorsport is not only about driving fast around a racetrack. It requires much more than just talent and skills behind the steering wheel. Race car drivers have to be a complete athlete. If a young driver wants to pursue their dreams and go as far as possible, there are four main pillars: talent/skills, fitness, mental preparation and media/marketing.”
None of these four pillars can be neglected:
- Fitness preparation is important, it helps in being able to focus while driving without being affected by lack of physical condition.
- Being strong mentally is important the higher you go in motorsport. Small details in performance rely on the ability to be able to maintain focus, and resistance to pressure.
- And finally, the media abilities are important, as drivers will have to be able to sell themselves to potential sponsors and investors to support their career.
One particular focus Nico is well respected for is the mental and physical training aspects of driver preparation, fundamental to success as a racing driver. This is a service created and developed in Europe via his Racing Lines Driver Development programme with online or trackside coaching and mentoring.
TGRNZ and Toyota New Zealand have made a great choice in passing responsibility to Nico for their racing activities, his passion for motorsport and development of young drivers is second-to-none. Any parents of aspiring drivers can be assured that whichever pathway their driver decides to follow in motorsport, Nico has their best interests at heart. If they have what it takes, it is possible that Nico and his team of dedicated professionals can help realise their dreams.
How fortunate is NZ motorsport to have such an asset in Nico Caillol and the courage of Toyota New Zealand to help us take on the world and continue punching above our weight internationally.
Thank you for all you do Nico and TGRNZ.