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Exton wins HDNZRA Toyota 86 shoot-out

Exton wins HDNZRA Toyota 86 shoot-out and a cash prize from the Tony Quinn Foundation towards a championship entry

Blenheim kart racer William Exton has won a three-way shoot-out at Hampton Downs and a cash prize of $37,500 towards his debut in the Toyota 86 championship courtesy of the Tony Quinn Foundation.

The18-year-old graduated through the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy (HDNZRA) and was chosen for its annual shoot-out along with Cormac Murphy, 18, and youngster Tom Bewley, who has just turned 15-years-old.

“This morning we were told to minimise the mistakes and be as consistent as you canon lap times and that’s what I focused on all day instead of pushing that extra bit to try and get the extra few tenths out of the car,” said Exton.

The trio were tested in front of TQ Foundation Trustee’s Steve Horne and Josie Spillane with founder Tony Quinn joining on-line from Australia. For former Indycar team owner Horne, the competition to choose a winner was intense.

Exton is already committed to the Toyota 86 series and has driven his own car at two endurance events so far in the lead-up to the HDNZRA shoot-out. While that may have given him a slight edge it was his off-track evaluations that pushed the scoreboard in his favour.

“Tom was very impressive on the track, and the split between William and Tom was about half-a-tenth (of a second) in race speed but William just had a little more consistency, a bit more experience and was certainly the most commercially savvy among them,” said Horne.

“There age difference between them is nearly four years but Tom has got huge potential if he keeps on on this path. By supporting both of them in the Toyota 86 championship they’ll be competing against each other and we can see how they go.”

On top of the winner’s prize purse the trustees opted to give Bewley a $10,000 grant towards his entry in the 2023 Toyota 86 championship.

For Murphy it was the first time racing on four-wheels, and unlike the two karters, he came to the HDNZRA via motocross. The trustees recognised his efforts with such limited experience and offered him further free sessions at the academy to build on his initial efforts.

Exton meanwhile has no doubts about what is the best way to progress from karting to car racing. The top karter, who heads to Portugal soon to represent New Zealand in the Rotax worlds, says the pathway via the HDNZRA is the best route for a young driver to make the switch.

“We think the 86 series is the best route, very close racing and with a good environment around it. The academy is the best place to start if you want to go car racing. Come to Hampton Downs and do a few rounds with Dan, he’s the one who pretty much taught me how to drive the ’86. They have a very good facility here,” added Exton.

HDNZRA’s chief driving instructor Daniel Gaunt, himself a former champion racer, also coordinates and runs the shoot-out on behalf of the TQF.

“Each driver had an evaluation session, then a qualifying simulation of 15-minutesand a race run where they did a race start and then 12 laps each. They got about 35 laps each over the day,” said Gaunt.

After the on-track activity each finalist had a technical session with Dan, Steve and Josie followed by a session on the commercials of motorsport, taking on aspects like sponsorship and media with Quinn joining via a zoom call from Australia.

“An incredibly inspiring day,” said Spillane, who is the CEO of Quinn’s racetracks at Cromwell, Taupo and Hampton Downs. “The boys put a lot of preparation into it and the day was a real credit to Dan and the Hampton Down steam,” she said.

The last word of the day, reserved for the winner.

“I would like to thank the trustees of the Tony Quinn Foundation for an amazing day. I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given,” said Exton.

Caption: HDNZRA Toyota 86 Finalists, left to right, Cormac Murphy, winner William Exton, and Tom Bewley.

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