Wednesday, Feb 14 02:27pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Toyota Racing Series likely to introduce halo cockpit protection

The Castrol Toyota Racing Series have earmarked the introduction of the controversial halo protection system for implementation in the near future.

Toyota New Zealand Motorsport Manager Mark Whittaker spoke with at last weekend’s New Zealand Grand Prix where he confirmed they’re keeping a close eye on halo research and development.

“We’re keen to follow the other series, Formula 3 in particular, because we want to be a relevant series for people to drive in relative to Europe,” Whittaker said.

“That means that we’re obviously looking at what they’re doing. It looks like they are going to a halo, but cars that already exist can carry on as they are.”

The series is currently keeping tabs on the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, which it is closely aligned to in technical specifications.

Currently Formula 3 and the Formula 1 supporting GP3 Series are in a tug-of-war for third-tier bragging rights.

An amalgamation of the two series to form one unified championship and other regional based championship has been slated, however, progress has been slow and a decision has yet to made.

What it means is while Formula 1 and Formula 2 will introduce the halo to their cars this season, Formula 3 and GP3 will run halo-less.


A possible painted halo alternative on Brendon Leitch's FT50 

The uncertainty around the future of Formula 3 has also impacted this year’s Toyota Racing Series.

Toyota Racing New Zealand management suggested the meddlings in Europe have affected how drivers have decided on their racing activities for 2018, thus, hurting this year’s grid. Of the 20 Toyota FT50s available, only 13 cars raced in this year’s five weekend long calendar.

Whittaker confirmed the uncertainty around Formula 3 is affecting how they decide what happens to the series.

With the halo already being implemented in regional championships, like the Formula 3 Americas Championship, questions are being asked around retrofitting the halo.

“At the moment we don’t know whether we can adapt our current tub to a halo and we don’t know how much that would cost. There are all sorts of questions that remain unanswered for us. At the moment we know we can continue as we are.

“Whatever the next iteration of the car is, we’ll need to be looking carefully at where people would step to from the Toyota Racing Series. Obviously if we don’t do that then it’s not a feeder series and that will undermine what we’re doing.

“We have mostly similar tyres to what Formula 3 are driving on. It’s a similar configuration, similar brake package and all those sorts of things.”


The 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship Dallara with the new halo

Toyota haven’t ruled out a completely new chassis to fall in line with FIA regulations. However, Whittaker said they don’t have a timeline for that decision.

Changes in Toyota Racing New Zealand management last year also coincided with the proliferation of the halo system, which Whittaker said was a challenge.

He said there is the possibility a new chassis could come sooner than later, despite only being three seasons old. A new chassis would likely come with a new engine package and the ability to use the halo.

Currently the second generation FT50 runs a 1.8 litre 2ZZ-GE capable of 200hp. It’s the same engine that is found in Toyota Corolla and Celica, but has been prone to overheating.

“We’re also looking at what happens to our engine too. We’ve run it for a long time. A lot of the other cars are going to smaller turbocharged engines. We could possibly do that too. If we did that with the halo coming in that would probably mean a whole new car potentially.

“How far away that is… at this point we just don’t know. They’re the big questions we’ve got that we’ll try and answer soon.

“It would be nice if we could keep this chassis for a long time, but the halo has presented itself now. That could change the lifespan of our chassis.”

The Toyota Racing Series has been in correspondence with chassis supplier Tatuus, who last week met with the FIA to discuss issues including the halo.

The CEO of Tatuus was set to attend the New Zealand Grand Prix, but the meeting with the FIA meant he couldn’t come. Series organisers have posed questions to Tatuus that have been forwarded onto the FIA to see what direction the respective groups need to work towards.

Currently the Toyota Racing Series is only looking at the viability of the halo.

Last week Scott Dixon tested IndyCar’s new cockpit canopy protection system on the Dallara DW12. Despite concerns about glare and distortion, Dixon came out the otherside of the test with his initially fears alleviated.

When asked whether the canopy system might work for the Toyota Racing Series, Whittaker said it would be unlikely they’d look to follow IndyCar’s lead.

“We could [choose what we use], but we want be to relevant to Formula 3. We would actually liked to be recognised more by the FIA, which means following their lead more closely.

“We would like to be able to get FIA Super Licence Points for this series if possible. We’re working down that track.”