Experience Toyota Kart Racing with Gazoo Racing Junior Academy

They have to manage their maths homework amid motorsport events, and they spend as much time in karts as in classrooms.

Images: Plan-C Productions

They’re the young guns making their mark in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Junior Academy – and when the day comes for famous drivers like Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan to pass the racing baton, they will be ready and waiting. 

Situated at the Zwartkops raceway in Pretoria, the GR (Gazoo Racing) Junior Academy also enjoys the endorsement of Motorsport South Africa. Given his experience, Toyota approached motorsport veteran Leeroy Poulter to spearhead the Academy. He serves as the ideal mentor, given his own illustrious karting career, which includes multiple junior titles, among them a Rotax MAX Euro championship. His karting journey led to production-car racing, rallying and off-road racing, all of which he excelled in, until a diagnosis of a brain tumour in 2016 brought his career to an abrupt halt. However, after undergoing successful surgery, he returned to the tracks in 2017 and resumed his winning streak, exiting the competitive scene due to other complications in 2019. Taking up the role of helping young drivers carve out their own racing careers was a natural progression. 

‘Toyota recognised there were no up-and-coming drivers, and the need to nurture talent and bring them into the leagues,’ explains Poulter. ‘I helped to identify drivers. We compiled a batch of CVs and meticulously evaluated them in collaboration with a Toyota team to ensure we selected the cream of the crop.’ 

Motorsport veteran Leeroy Poulter spearhead the Toyota GR Junior Racing Academy.

Poulter says motivation is one thing the young team needs no guidance with. ‘They are here pretty much all the time they drive me mad!’ he teases. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure how they juggle all their commitments here with their schoolwork; they are an impressive bunch.’ 

He finds great fulfilment in knowing he can be a mentor for young aspiring drivers. ‘It’s great to see them grow and to know I can contribute in more ways than just behind the wheel. I take pleasure in teaching them about different aspects of the sport, like how to approach data analysis. It’s truly gratifying to witness their progress.’ 

Poulter introduced Toyota Connect to three of these young drivers who are making their mark on the track. 

‘I have always been a very dedicated, sporty daredevil. I have a drive for speed and adrenaline and a competitive nature, so karting ticked all the boxes!’ 

Emma Rose Dowling (12)

Eyes set on the main circuit

KC (short for Klayden Cole) Ensor-Smith has just turned 15 and has been racing for most of his life. 

‘I started with motocross at the age of four,’ he explains. ‘My parents took me to indoor karting when I was five and pleaded that they let me drive. With cushions to help me reach the pedals, I took off and immediately broke the lap record!’ 

KC Ensor-Smith (seated front) with his Toyota GR Junior Academy teammates
KC Ensor-Smith (seated front) with his teammates

He was later introduced to the staff at Rand Kart Club and hasn’t looked back since, citing being chosen for the GR Junior Academy as a dream come true. ‘The expertise, the focus and the development they have invested in me has been amazing. They have built on my strengths and ironed out my flaws. With Toyota GR by my side and the guidance of Leeroy, we have achieved three South African titles in two years, and in November we will attend my second world final.’ 

KC’s goal is to take racing to the main circuit (‘maybe in a GTC’) and possibly explore the world of rally. 

‘I want to be the best African driver!’

Until the age of six, Reagile Spice Mailula (now 12) had never been interested in racing, and had never followed motorsport and didnt know anything about it. But then he got invited to a friend’s sixth birthday party at an indoor go-karting circuit and stunned everyone there with his skill. 

Reagile ‘Spice’ Mailula is a member of the Toyotaa GR Junior Academy.

A family friend invited Reagile to the Vereeniging Kart Circuit, lent him his younger son’s kart and, instantly, a winning driver was born. 

‘In 2021, I became the Micro Max Class National Championships winner and that led me to being chosen for the first GR Junior Academy in 2022,’ he explains, adding that it did not come without challenges. ‘Throughout my karting journey, my parents were the ones managing and training me. Getting into a team and trying to get used to how things are done as a group was a bit of a difficulty for me. I had to learn that change does not come easily, and I had to give both the team and myself a chance to know and understand each other.’ 

He lists his highlights of 2023 as being chosen as the driver of the day at the KZN National and breaking the Zwartkops track record during one of the South African Rotax MAX Challenges. 

His dream? ‘Continuous support from the Academy so I can become the best African driver produced from our country!’ 

A need for speed

‘I started karting in 2021 after watching my younger brother race,’ says Emma Rose Dowling, 12, whose passion for speed and competition led her to the track. ‘I have always been a very dedicated, sporty daredevil. I have a drive for speed and adrenaline and a competitive nature, so karting ticked all the boxes!’ 

Emma’s journey to karting excellence is intertwined with her membership in the GR Junior Academy. ‘I feel confident and privileged to be part of such an amazing team,’ she acknowledges. ‘Leeroy and the Toyota team provide the best in karting, both mechanically and mentally, and for that, I am truly grateful.’  

Emma Rose Dowling (12) is the only girl on the Toyota GR Junior Academy team.

Facing the challenge of being the only girl on the team, Emma sees it as an opportunity. ‘Toyota has inspired many young ladies like myself to start racing in this male-dominated sport,’ she notes. In her debut season in the Mini Max Rotax series, Emma achieved a remarkable sixth place overall out of 35 registered drivers, competing in one of the series’ toughest classes. Her journey through eight races across the country, in varying weather conditions, is testament to her resilience. Her career highlight came when she won ‘Driver of the Day’ at the 2022 African Open, securing a third-place finish overall. 

Emma values teamwork, saying, ‘Being part of a team means sharing our knowledge, our challenges and our success.’ Her goals include inspiring other girls by winning a championship in the Rotax series, earning a ticket to compete internationally and ultimately becoming a professional driver. 

Full throttle

The brand-new Gazoo Racing headquarters opens at Zwartkops Raceway.