He's back: Marcus Armstrong joins 2019 Toyota Racing Series grid
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After dramatically losing out on last year's Castrol Toyota Racing Series crown, 18-year-old Marcus Armstrong has confirmed that he will return to the open-wheel series for 2019.
"I'm not one to hold a grudge over what happened last year and not a person to back away from a challenge," said Armstrong.
"I think it's going to be a challenge, I don't think it's going to be easy at all — and that's sort of exciting. Last year I was thinking it was going to be a little bit of a walk in the park, which wasn't exactly true."
The Toyota Racing Series is one of New Zealand's most decorated motorsport categories, having helped foster the careers of numerous noteworthy Kiwi race drivers — Shane van Gisbergen, Richie Stanaway, Earl Bamber included — as well as a host of former and current Formula 1 drivers like Brendon Hartley, Lance Stroll, and Lando Norris.
Armstrong's 2018 TRS season had all the hallmarks of the championship win in waiting; complete with consistency across the five-round calendar and a generous smattering of podium finishes and wins. Heading into the final race of the year (the New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon), Armstrong was the driver to beat.
But mechanical issues after a safety car period shot his race to pieces; costing him the race lead and ultimately costing him the championship.
"I'm glad you guys don't have my radio [recordings] from after that race," Armstrong laughed.
Since his last-minute failure early last year, Armstrong has traveled the world as a leading driver in the European FIA Formula 3 Championship. He led the series early (claiming a race win at the Norisring along the way) before fading late in the season. Prema Theodore Racing teammate Mick Schumacher (son of Michael Schumacher) went on to win the title.
Armstong is the 15th driver to be confirmed for the upcoming season, which kicks off next weekend at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell before visiting Teretonga Park in Invercargill, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in Waikato, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo, and Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding over the following four weekends.
The drivers announced thus far come from as far as the United States (Cameron Das, Peter Locke, and Dev Gore), Germany (Esteban Muth), Japan (Kazuto Kotaka), and South Africa (Raoul Hyman). In total there are three Australian drivers (Jackson Walls, Calan Williams, and Thomas Smith), and three Kiwis (Armstrong, Liam Lawson, and Brendon Leitch).
But arguably the biggest star on the grid will be Lucas Auer. The Austrian heads to New Zealand off the back of a competitive four-year stint in Germany's top-tier touring car series DTM. The 24-year-old is a four-time race winner in the series, claiming all the wins as part of Mercedes-Benz's factory team.
"He's very experienced," Armstrong said of Auer.
"He's got a lot of experience. He was actually in Prema in 2013 and I've heard some pretty funny stories... He's obviously very good as well, and it excites me that I get to race against competitive guys."
Round one of the series takes place next weekend (full calendar below) in Cromwell. The event will be supported by the BNT V8s, Toyota 86 Series, NZ V8 Utes, Rush Hour and OSCA Series. Click here to read the full event preview.
2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series calendar
Round 1: Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, January 10–13
Round 2: Teretonga Park, Invercargill, January 17–20
Round 3: Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Waikato, January 24–27
Round 4: Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo, January 31–February 3
Round 5: New Zealand Grand Prix, Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, Feilding, February 7–10