Side by side at 180km/h: Armstrong fights back with wet and wild win
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Young Kiwi drivers Marcus Armstrong and Liam Lawson have duelled with each other for the second Toyota Racing Series weekend in a row — only this time, it was Armstrong that emerged on top. The pairing now sit together at the top of the title standings, tied on points.
The wings-and-slicks series is competing at Teretonga Park this weekend in Invercargill, with two more races still to come tomorrow. And thus far, every race has been won by a New Zealander.
Lawson came out with the early advantage, by way of claiming pole position for the Saturday curtain raiser. Armstrong was second, with Lucas Auer and Kazuto Kotaka on the second row of the grid (both factory drivers for Mercedes-Benz and Toyota respectively overseas). But Lawson's grip on the lead didn't last long.
The weather had been glum for most of the day, with another downpour coming down just before race start. This would make start-procedures difficult come race start, and among those to struggle off the line was Lawson.
Armstrong by comparison made a blinder, as did Russian driver Artem Petrov. From the fourth row of the grid, Petrov zoomed into second before eventually losing out to Lawson — all the moving and shaking taking place under a thick layer of water spray.
What commenced in the subsequent laps was a thrilling battle between Armstrong and Lawson. The former and his Auckland City Toyota FT-50 held a big three-second lead initially, but Lawson was reeling him in lap by lap. And a safety car on lap 12 (prompted by the beached car of Petru Florescu) eliminated whatever was left between the pairing.
The race restarted with just three laps to go; Armstrong and Lawson leading Petrov, Auer, and Raoul Hyman (who had sliced through the field from 11th on the start). The battle between Armstrong recommenced, and it didn't take long to heat up to the same levels it had met at round one.
The lap after the restart saw Lawson get a quick run in Armstrong's draft down the front straight. As they crossed the start-finish line Lawson jumped out from behind Armstrong's draft to challenge around the outside. Like he did at Highlands, he again tried to get around Armstrong via the longer outside line (this time at Invercargill's long high-speed 180km/h turn-one loop). But this time Lawson got loose and sideways on corner exit — Armstrong hanging on.
With a lap to go, Lawson was back on Armstrong's tail again. But a sideways moment at turn two put paid to any chance he had at taking a last-minute victory. In the end, the margin was just four tenths of a second. Petrov finished third, grabbing his first podium of the season.
Things were all change on the last lap, in regards to the remains of the top 10. After his barnstorming drive Hyman threw away fourth by trying to make a dive on Petrov at the last corner on the last lap. He toured the grass, and tumbled down to 11th. The off left Cameron Das to finish fourth and Auer fifth. Kazuto Kotaka, Calan Williams, Brendon Leitch, Esteban Muth, and Dev Gore completed the top 10.
The Castrol Toyota Racing Series has two more races tomorrow — scheduled to start at 12.20pm and 3.35pm respectively. Tomorrow's racing can be viewed through the live stream, which is available by clicking here. The live stream starts at 9.55am, with Toyota Racing Series qualifying.