Preview: Kiwis lead the charge, as TRS hits the Waikato
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January and February are memorable months for Kiwi circuit racing anoraks.
During these months a slice of Europe, America, and Asia’s high-stakes junior open-wheel racing circus calls New Zealand home thanks to the short and sharp Castrol Toyota Racing Series calendar.
This weekend marks the halfway point of the five-round series, with the 16-car grid set to descend on Waikato’s Hampton Downs Motorsport Park for an unprecedented four-race schedule. And Sunday’s feature race will decide the next recipient of one of the most illustrious trophies in domestic racing, the New Zealand Motor Cup.
Those tracking the series will be aware of the calibre of racers on the grid. Factory Mercedes-Benz DTM driver Lucas Auer (Austria), Formula 3 champions Raoul Hyman (UK/South Africa) and Calan Williams (Australia), and TOM’S Toyota Japan factory junior Kazuto Kotaka represent a snapshot of the international drivers taking on the series.
But, so far, all have had to race in the shadows of the three New Zealanders on the grid — [from left, pictured above] Brendon Leitch, Marcus Armstrong, and Liam Lawson.
Kiwis hold a 100 per cent victory record across the four races contested so far at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell and Teretonga Park in Invercargill. Lawson has two wins, and Armstrong and Leitch have one each.
Lawson and Armstrong in particular have been at each other’s throats all season, having battled wheel-to-wheel at almost every race as they prepare to take on the world later this year. While they had a stellar race with each other at the wet opening race at Teretonga, undoubtedly their most memorable battle came in the closing race at Highlands Motorsport Park.
The pair were dicing for second on a wet (but drying) circuit, when series rookie Lawson pulled an unprecedented move around the outside of the concrete-lined final corner [view in video above]. It was a pass never seen before at the circuit from a top-tier formula, and one that went viral on social media. More than 40,000 people viewed replays of the pass across Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit — 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Earl Bamber and Supercars Championship winner Shane van Gisbergen among those to post their praise.
“Marcus is very difficult to pass,” said Lawson, explaining the wild move to media at Invercargill.
“I’d been trying to set it up for a couple of laps — I knew we had pace in the car so I was trying a few different places. I got a run through turn 14 around the outside, and I’d tried it in the previous laps and found that there was grip there.
“I had momentum into the last corner, and it was an opportunity too good to back out of. I just sent it around the outside, and hoped for the best. And it paid off.”
This weekend’s Hampton Downs event spreads four races over three days, as opposed to the traditional three-race format. This is because the second and third races at Teretonga were postponed because of 120km/h winds. (Round four at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park will also be a four-race weekend.)
The series will be joined by Formula 5000s, Matos Formula Libre, TradeZone GTRNZ and Historic Touring Cars, and more.
Castrol Toyota Racing Series championship standings
1. Liam Lawson (NZ) 113 points
2. Marcus Armstrong (NZ) 113
3. Raoul Hyman (UK/SA) 79
4. Lucas Auer (Austria) 73
5. Brendon Leitch (NZ) 72
6. Cameron Das (US) 66
7. Artem Petrov (Russia) 59
8. Esteban Muth (Belgium) 58
9. Petr Ptáček (Czech Republic) 57
10. Calan Williams (Australia) 53
11. Kazuto Kotaka (Japan) 48
12. Dev Gore (US) 34
13. Parker Locke (US) 26
14. Thomas Smith (Australia) 26
15. Petru Florescu (Romania) 15
16. Jackson Walls (Australia) 8