New Zealand race car driver Brendon Leitch was born and raised in Invercargill, New Zealand's southernmost city. Brendon and his elder brother, Damon, raced karts for many years, before setting out driving Dad’s Formula Atlantic Ralt RT4 and the EH Ball Formula Ford at club days at local track, Teretonga.
It soon became apparent that the Leitch brothers had natural driving talent and with their parents, Barry & Marguerite engineering and organising, the family first contested the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship in 2007 – a category widely regarded as an excellent single-seater training ground in the Southern Hemisphere. Brendon secured third overall in 2012, aged 16, and took second place in the 2013 season.
In New Zealand, the next step for a ‘wings-and-slicks-racer’ is the hotly contested Toyota Racing Series. Echoes of the golden era of New Zealand motorsport's Tasman Series can be felt, with rising international karting and race stars heading ‘down-under’ for five intense weekends of back-to-back, wheel-to-wheel racing. The Toyota Racing Series is a proven test bed for young Kiwi drivers to pit themselves against their international colleagues who head to New Zealand’s premier single-seater category to gain additional seat time in their off-season during the Kiwi summer race season
Racing for Nelson's Victory Motor Racing in their debut TRS season in 2014, the Leitch brothers once again showed what they are made of. In his rookie year and aged only 18, Brendon finished 16th in the championship, surprising many with a 6th place in the first round at Timaru, a track close to home. Damon finished 3rd that year, taking out the much-revered Bruce McLaren Trophy for the top-placed Kiwi
The 2015 season marked the introduction of a new Toyota Racing chassis. Again competing with Victory Motor Racing, Brendon showing stunning form, putting his car on pole at the 2nd round at his home track, Teretonga. He went on to win Sunday’s 20 lap feature race and was presented with the Spirit of a Nation Cup. Unfortunately, issues with his car saw Damon not reach his potential, but he fought on to finish sixth in the Championship, and first Kiwi home for the second year running. Brendon's improving form (and loaning of car parts to Damon) saw him step into 14th place. He'd made his point. He was fast and had what it took to win.
The 2016 TRS season almost didn't happen for Brendon. A change of policy and direction for his previous main sponsor, meant that Brendon was left with a sizeable gap in his budget. However with long time supporter EH Ball ITM, leading the charge, both Southern Lakes ITM and Dayle ITM - got together to secure the funding required alongside supporting sponsors Knights of NZ, I-Cue, SIT, Koba Batteries, Ceres Wines and Finnlater Sawmills. Brendon rewarded their loyalty with a massive improvement in his performance across the five-round championship – the 20-year-old finished third overall to UK teen sensation Lando Norris and finished the season on a high with a win at the final round at Manfeild. As the best-placed Kiwi driver, Brendon was presented with the Bruce McLaren trophy and the Steele Memorial trophy at MotorSport New Zealand’s annual awards night.
An operational change heralded Brendon’s 2017 season with Deborah Day from Dayle ITM stepping in to help Brendon put together the sponsorship needed. The ITM family was growing, with Dyers Road ITM and Albany ITM joining the team. Senco, Red Stag Timber, James Hardie, Kea Property Group, I-Cue, Koba Batteries, Ceres Wines and Finnlater Sawmills all contributed to ensure funding was secured well in advance of the season start.
However, Brendon’s fourth TRS season didn't progress as planned – first, there was the turn 1 crash at Teretonga and then the dramatic exit from the final round at Manfeild. Thankfully, the challenging season wasn't without its good points, with Brendon showing consistent year-on-year improvement in his data at each of the circuits. He chased down a hard-fought win at Taupo much to the delight of the team and a noisy group of supporters in the stand, and the Sunday morning race at Manfield saw him drive from 20th – 7th in only 10 laps, finishing the season in a credible 9th positon.
Not bad, for an apprentice mechanic from Invercargill, who races only five weekends a year.
So, what's next? The F4 US Championship is beckoning, chosen for its FIA Championship status and controlled formula. The Supporters’ Club is trying hard to get him there. All we can say is watch this space.