GR Junior Academy: Toyota’s investment in motorsport is paying dividends

Since its inception in 2022 the Gazoo Racing Junior Academy has significantly contributed to motorsport in South Africa by nurturing young talent and providing them with the necessary tools and resources to succeed.

Through the Academy, Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa has been able to identify and develop promising young karters who have gone on to achieve great success.

The Academy offers a comprehensive training programme that includes physical fitness, mental preparation, and driving skills. The drivers are also provided with the latest in data analysis tools to help them improve their performance on the track. One of the most significant contributions has been the promotion of safer and fairer motorsport. The Academy places a strong emphasis on safety, and all drivers are trained to follow strict safety protocols both on and off the track. The Academy also promotes fair play and sportsmanship, instilling in the drivers the importance of respecting their competitors and the sport's rules.

The Academy has a diverse group of drivers representing different cultures and genders who participate in both the national and regional Rotax MAX Challenge (Gauteng) championships.

“The GR Junior Academy was started in 2022 as a karting-based development programme with the aim of providing a platform to develop, mentor and coach aspiring South African racing drivers under the guidance of seasoned professionals. In addition, the racing mentorship and training programme ensures we fulfil our objective to develop drivers across the various motorsport formats in order to mentor them - to ultimately participate and represent us at the Dakar Rally,” says Riaan Esterhuysen, Senior Manager: Toyota SA Product PR & Gazoo Racing.

“We believe the GR Junior Academy has already made a positive impact in the local motorsport space, by showing young racing talent that there is a future in motorsport and growth opportunities”, he adds.

Kian Grottis, recently crowned the 2023 regional champion, remains the only academy driver in the premier DD2 class. Grottis, a championship challenger throughout the season, also placed fourth in the 2023 national championship.

The Academy also fielded two Senior MAX drivers this season after 2022 National Junior MAX Champion KC Ensor-Smith stepped up in class, joining Olerato Sekudu. Ensor-Smith was in phenomenal form, winning a second consecutive national title in the colours of Toyota Gazoo Racing. This sees Ensor-Smith head to the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals (RMCGF) for a second successive season, the highlight on the international calendar for Rotax competitors. Despite some strong pace this season, Sekudu was unlucky on several occasions, battling technical issues. He still managed a top-six finish in the national championship and backed up Ensor-Smith in a strong one-two finish in the regional competition.

The most recent addition to the Academy this season saw Junior MAX driver Kent Swartz triumph in all competitions, winning the national, regional and African Open titles. Swartz, too, will represent South Africa at the RMCGF.

In the Mini MAX class, Reagile ‘Spice’ Mailula started the season strongly by winning the opening round of the national championship. Despite showing strong form and achieving numerous podium finishes, he finished fifth in the nationals behind fellow Academy driver Emma-Rose Dowling. Dowling, one of only a few female drivers competing in the sport, might have missed out on the podium, but a consistent season saw her achieve a top-four national finish. Mailula, who finished as runner-up in the regional championship, claimed the coveted 2023 African Open title to see him join Ensor-Smith and Swartz at the RMCGF in 2023.

"Preparations for the 2024 season have already commenced, with Mailula and Dowling having competed in the Junior MAX class at the final regional round," says owner of Xtreme Racing and GR Junior Academy team manager, Leeroy Poulter. The Academy's success is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the drivers, mechanics, and support staff, and it is sure to continue making a positive impact on South African motorsport for years to come.

The Academy was represented across all classes over the past two seasons, but with several drivers moving up, a few vacancies still need to be filled for 2024.