Surprise winner of wild Lady Wigram Trophy finale
Jehan Daruvala wins Lady Wigram Trophy after fascinating race
Force India's Jehan Daruvala, who won the Formula 1 team's 'One in a Billion' driver hunt, has won the 2016 Lady Wigram Trophy, in a 20-lap Toyota Racing Series (TRS) race which included crashes and strategy — both triggered by rain.
Earlier in the day Lando Norris claimed victory in race two of the weekend at Mike Pero Motorsport Park over Russian Time GP2 driver Artem Markelov and Timothe Buret, winning by just under a second.
Norris, who had been one of the quickest drivers all week — taking the Ruapuna lap record for a TRS race car along the way — entered the final race of the weekend as the hot favourite. And starting from pole, he looked set to convert the result into a win after dominating the opening half of the race.
But as the rain began to set in, fortunes swung away from Norris and towards the recovering Pedro Piquet.
Pedro Piquet leading the field to the hairpin during race two. Photo / Matthew Hansen
Piquet had spun out of second place at the end of the opening lap, falling to the back of the field. He and his M2 Competition crew elected to pit for wet-weather tyres as a result. The move was justified immediately, as Piquet began to set lap times five-seconds faster than the leading cars.
Soon several other drivers pitted, Daruvala the very first to follow suit.
The race came to a head as the second caution flag was called, with Norris, Ferrari Academy driver Guayan Zhou, and leading Kiwi driver Brendon Leitch among those to stay out.
"One of the problems we had was that our race radios were down, and I couldn't talk back to the pits," Leitch told Driven.
"Also we don't have all the gear to do a good pit stop like those boys, and we thought that once that second safety car came out that we were already stuck up the creek without a paddle."
With the slick-laden runners at the front of the field now surrounded by drivers on wet tyres, they were sitting ducks as the race restarted with five laps to go — Piquet up to a barnstorming sixth position.
However, a chaotic restart saw Norris surrender the lead after making a mistake and coming off the track, and Piquet was taken out in a crash that also involved American Theo Bean. These two incidents and the surrounding drama as various cars took evasive action helped lift Daruvala through the order to the front of the field and — with the race red flagged for the stricken Piquet and Bean cars — he was awarded the Lady Wigram Trophy.
Saturday race winner Ferdinand Habsburg finished second, with Artem Markelov, Norris, and Zhou rounding out the top six.
Brendon Leitch. Photo / Matthew Hansen
The highest-placed New Zealander was Brendon Leitch, who finished the race in sixth position after having been as high as third.
"The first safety car was ideal for us, and where we really made up some ground on the top two guys. That second one though was the downbuzz of it all, when some of the boys came in and got some wets, and we dropped down the field," said Leitch.
"The ITM TF-50 has been on form all weekend. We've made a few changes to it and it's just progressed right the way through. We're just moving forward every time on the track."
The Toyota Racing Series will now travel to for round two of the 2016 series, with Ferdinand Habsburg the round winner for the weekend. Round two will take place at Teretonga, Leitch's home event.
"It's nice to get some points and have a car that's in one piece heading into Teretonga, my home track. I've been thinking of home a lot, and the boys down there want a lot from me. Last year I won down there, so we'll definitely be trying to rack up as many points as we can down there before we head away to the North Island."