NZ Motor Cup: lap-one drama hands Liam Lawson the TRS championship lead
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Defending Castrol Toyota Racing Series champion Liam Lawson is provisionally back at the head of the 2020 standings, having dominated the final race of the Pukekohe weekend.
Lawson beat Franco Colapinto by almost seven seconds to earn a slot on the storied trophy, with Germany's Lirim Zendeli completing the podium. Former points leader Igor Fraga was eliminated from podium contention on lap one after a turn-four spin, and while he was able to recover to finish a stellar eighth it wasn't enough to retain the lead of the series as the New Zealand Grand Prix championship finale looms. Heading into the finale, Lawson provisionally sits on 286 points to Fraga's 278 — with 90 points on the table at Manfeild.
“Very happy, we missed out on this one last year, its nice to have it this time and to turn this weekend around. We were very disappointed after last weekend,” said Lawson. “It’s unfortunate what happened to Igor at the start. Our pace was really good. Not going to lie, we were flat out the whole race, very very happy with the win.
“It's obviously better than being behind. Very happy to go into the last week leading, very close still, and I’m sure the weekend at Manfeild will be close too.”
The day started with the reverse top-six second race. Australian Jackson Walls was able to claim a memorable maiden race win over teammate Petr Ptacek — having led the race from lights to flag despite the Czech driver's ongoing pressure. Third went to Colapinto, despite a mountain of pressure all race long from Lawson. Fraga was one spot back in fifth.
Lawson started the NZ Motor Cup feature from pole over Fraga, Colapinto, Gregoire Saucy, and Lirim Zendeli. Lawson and Fraga had almost equal starts, running side-by-side through turn one. Lawson got the spot, before drama unfolded at turn four. Fraga appeared to check up slightly to accommodate Lawson, and this saw him cop a hit from Saucy behind — sending him into a spin.
Fraga rejoined down in 16th, leaving Lawson, Saucy, Colapinto, Zendeli, and Ptacek in the top five. A safety car on lap three for the dislodged wing of Sweden's Lucas Petersson provided some reprieve for Fraga, allowing him to tack back onto the back of the grid.
The race restarted on lap six, and Fraga didn't have to wait long to pick up a position as Saucy was handed a drive-through penalty for his role in the incident. What was also helping the Brazilian was a chaotic mid-pack stuffed with physical battles. By lap nine he was up to 12th, and a few laps later he had hit the top 10.
Fraga was one of two drivers forging through the field. The other was Yuki Tsunoda. Having started the race deep down in 16th position, he had been able to carve through the wheel-banging traffic into the top 10 in the opening laps.
At the front meanwhile, Lawson's lead had eclipsed two seconds. A sequence of sharp laps — including the weekend's first in-race 59-second lap — helped build the gap to almost five seconds. Colapinto in second was also running a lonely race, leaving Zendeli to fend off Ptacek and Ido Cohen for the last step of the podium.
Lawson eventually extended the gap to over five seconds, en route to one of his most dominant victories of the season thus far. Colapinto and Zendeli rounded out the podium, with Tsunoda narrowly missing out on a surprise podium in fourth. Ptacek, Cohen, Caio Collet, Fraga, Tijmen van der Helm, and Walls rounded out the top 10.
The series now prepares for its series finale next weekend at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, where the international field will fight not only for the championship win but also for New Zealand Grand Prix honours.
Castrol Toyota Racing Series Round 4 Pukekohe Park results; Race 3
1. Liam Lawson
2. Franco Colapinto
3. Lirim Zendeli
4. Yuki Tsunoda
5. Petr Ptacek
6. Ido Cohen
7. Caio Collet
8. Igor Fraga
9. Tijmen van der Helm
10. Jackson Walls
11. Oliver Rasmussen
12. Spike Kohlbecker
13. Lucas Petersson
14. Henning Enqvist
15. Rui Andrade
16. Axel Gnos
17. Gregoire Saucy
DNS. Emilien Denner