Critical weekend for TRS
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This weekend will see 20 of the world's most talented young open-wheel drivers attack Waikato's Hampton Downs Motorsport Park circuit for the third round of the 2017 Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
With last year's breakaway champion Lando Norris having departed from the grid, the title was labelled as "wide open" in the build-up to round one in Christchurch.
The opening round furthered this claim, with New Zealand's Marcus Armstrong, Thomas Randle, and Jehan Daruvala all taking race victories.
However by the end of round two of the series, at Teretonga Park in Invercargill, one driver had snatched a clear lead in the championship and the title of championship favourite -- Richard Verschoor.
The Dutch 16-year-old rookie flew under the radar leading into the series in the midst of the variety of big-name returning drivers.
Verschoor is a Red Bull Junior driver; part of a development programme for young drivers implemented by Red Bull Racing to try to hunt down the next wave of Formula 1 stars.
Graduates include Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, and Kiwi Brendon Hartley.
By last Sunday afternoon, he had amassed an impressive 58-point margin over second place in the title fight by virtue of two race wins and a second-place finish across Invercargill's three races.
"My aim for myself is always to win -- I'm not happy with second or lower," he recently told Driven.
"I really enjoy these tracks -- [they're] similar to Dutch tracks. I like small tracks where there are a lot of corners, and this car behaves well on them."
There are still three more rounds -- this weekend's Hampton Downs event, and then events in Taupo and Feilding respectively -- for the rest of the field to try to catch the young Dutchman.
Leading the charge to topple Verschoor are Randle, Pedro Piquet, and Daruvala. All three are series returnees.
While Piquet and Daruvala were frequent winners last season, Randle's form has been a surprise after a difficult debut in 2015.
The Australian's improved consistency stems from a productive season competing in the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship, where he claimed two race wins and five further podium appearances.
The leading New Zealander, Armstrong, lies just behind these drivers in the points. After a victory in Christchurch, his consistency waned. However, the Ferrari Academy driver bounced back in Invercargill with two fourth-place results.
The two remaining Kiwis on the grid, Taylor Cockerton and Brendon Leitch, are sixth and seventh.
The TRS field begin testing at Hampton Downs on Thursday, with racing to follow at the weekend and Sunday's feature race to decide the new owner of the New Zealand Motor Cup trophy.
1. Richard Verschoor 398
2. Thomas Randle 340
3. Pedro Piquet 307
4. Jehan Daruvala 287
5. Marcus Armstrong 273
6. Taylor Cockerton 263
7. Brendon Leitch 232
8. Kami Laliberte 223
9. Enaam Ahmed 222
10. Ferdinand Habsburg 206