The 2019 Toyota Racing Series (TRS) title will be decided in the final weekend as Liam Lawson retook the points lead from Marcus Armstrong at Taupo after a win and three podiums.
The penultimate weekend at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo started off with the qualifying and race from the Teretonga weekend as M2 Competition’s Lawson, not only took pole but also victory as well in a dominant fashion.
Lawson controlled the pace all-through despite few hiccups to win as nearest contender and Ferrari junior Armstrong fell into the clutches of the Red Bull junior and M2 Competition teammate Lucas Auer to concede second place midway in the race.
The Kiwi had to settle for third from teammate Artem Petrov as Giles Motorsport’s Raoul Hyman completed the Top 5. MTEC Motorsport’s Kazuto Kotaka held sixth for long but was undone by teammate Jackson Walls, who had a dream start from 11th to seventh on Lap 1.
Walls fought off the pack behind with Victory Motor Racing’s Brendon Leitch leading M2 Competition’s Cameron Das, MTEC Motorsport’s Calan Williams, M2 Competition’s Esteban Muth and Giles Motorsport’s Petr Ptacek.
A safety car period to recover the Victory Motor Racing’s Parker Locke’s car allowed Walls to get away from the pack and get Kotaka as a moment between Leitch and Das helped Muth to get a three-place jump to end up seventh behind Walls.
Behind them in eighth was Williams with Kotaka ending up ninth and MTEC Motorsport’s Petru Florescu gaining as well to round out the Top 10. Position 11-16: Thomas Smith, Dev Gore, Leitch, Ptacek, Das and Locke.
The actual Race 1 of Taupo weekend saw Lawson start from pole but was immediately cleared by Auer as the pole-sitter then lost out to Armstrong as well to drop to third after the opening lap ahead of Hyman.
Disaster then struck Armstrong as a suspension issue sent him in the gravel as he limped back into the pits. The mechanics sorted his car as he went out but unfortunately the Kiwi was not a classified finisher as he completed only 66.6% of the required 75% of the race.
While Armstrong battled through, Lawson started to attack Auer but the Austrian resisted to claim his first TRS victory – also his first single-seater win since the 2014 European F3 race at Nurburgring. Lawson took second with Hyman in third.
Petrov was fourth ahead of the battling Leitch and Muth with the former keeping fifth as the latter settled for sixth ahead of Ptacek, Walls, Williams and Das in the Top 10. Position 11-15: Gore, Florescu, Locke, Smith and Kotaka.
The Race 2 on Sunday, reverse-grid pole-sitter Muth started off nicely along with front-row starter Leitch with Lawson on their tail as they pulled away from the rest of the grid with Armstrong fighting back up after a non-finish on Saturday.
The battle between Muth and Leitch continued on until the end but it was the Belgian who secured his first win of the series with Leitch returning to the podium after six races while Lawson completed the podium position.
Petrov was fourth with Das in fifth ahead of Hyman and Ajuer. The Austrian fended off a recovering Armstrong, who had to settle for eighth with Williams and Kotaka rounding the Top 10. Position: 11-15: Ptacek, Walls, Smith, Gore and Locke. DNF: Florescu.
The Race 3 had Armstrong put in a solid show after clearing pole-sitter Auer in Turn 1 and leading the way until the end, even surviving a safety car re-start to not only win the race but also keep himself well in contention for the title.
Auer had no answer to Armstrong’s pace with Muth holding off points leader Lawson until the re-start after which the Belgian’s work was undone when the Kiwi took third in Turn 1 and completed the final place on the podium.
Muth settled for fourth with Hyman in fifth, led the rest of the Top 10 which had Kotaka, Williams, Das, Leitch and Walls. Position 11-13: Florescu, Gore and Smith. DNF: Ptacek and Locke. NC: Petrov.
As things stand, Lawson has 278 points to Armstrong’s 273 with three more races to go at Manfeild. A spirited performance from Auer has put him in third with 225 points as he leapfrogged Hyman, who has 222 with Muth (200) completing the Top 5.