Pro Mazda will have another driver head to New Zealand over the winter to get some running and continue his open-wheel growth and development, in the form of 20-year-old Will Owen.
Owen follows fellow Mazda Road to Indy standout Neil Alberico as young Americans going overseas to compete in the Toyota Racing Series, a five-round championship which kicks off January 16 in Ruapana, Christchurch.
Owen, originally from Colorado who now resides in Ft. Worth, Texas and studies at TCU, just completed his first season in Pro Mazda with Juncos Racing. He finished seventh in the championship with three podium finishes, including two runner-up results.
Now, the Speed Group driver will follow in the footsteps of both Alberico and fellow Speed Group young rising talent Alfonso Celis Jr., a GP3 driver, who have previously raced in the championship.
“Speed Group had a client – Alfonso Celis – did it last year or two years ago, and had some contacts,” Owen told MotorSportsTalk.
“We were looking for some winter experience, and some more racing experience, and it’s what I need to improve the most – the race craft and wheel-to-wheel action.
“To prepare for next year in Pro Mazda, what’s the right move and how to train? You can’t really practice that unless you’re actually racing.
“This was a cool option, super competitive, like Pro Mazda. I talked to Neil about this, and he did the series and he highly recommended it.”
The preparation should help Owen, who will return for a second season with Juncos next season, move into championship contention – as most series sophomores tend to do in their second year.
There will be some differences between the Pro Mazda chassis and the TRS chassis, which has a base 1.8-liter in-line, four-cylinder engine paired with a typical carbon fiber monocoque.
“It’s similar to more of a Formula 3 car,” Owen explained. “It’s obviously a Toyota engine, with slightly less power but more downforce, and a bit lighter. It should be similar in straights, likely faster in corners, so not a huge difference from Pro Mazda. It’s European style, rather than American style.
“I’m not expecting it to be completely different. At 200 hp, it’s a 1.8-liter Toyota. So a little less powerful than the Mazda. It’s paddle shift instead of sequential. That will be something to adjust to. Michelin tires, 480 kg… so 1,058 pounds. Considerably lighter. Judging by the look, there’s quite a bit of downforce. It’s different, but similar pace.”
For Owen, who balances his studies with racing full-time – although as he noted he’s itching to get back in a car since the Pro Mazda season concluded last month at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – it will also mark his first international racing appearance.
“It’s my first international experience… I’ve never done anything like this,” he said.
“I haven’t been there. But that’s what’s so cool. I’ve heard New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and cleanest.
“I’m looking forward to the racing, since I’m not gonna have an opportunity to study abroad with racing. This will do the trick!”