Title comes down to three races
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The fifth and final round of the 2017 Castrol Toyota Racing Series takes place this weekend at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon; recently renamed as a tribute to the late, great New Zealand Formula 1 star.
And, as opposed to the previous two seasons of the open-wheel category that featured runaway championship winners, the title fight remains wide open heading into the final trio of races — the last of which will decide the new recipient of the New Zealand Grand Prix title.
Red Bull Junior driver Richard Verschoor led the points for most of the season, by virtue of a consistent opening three rounds underlined by just one finish outside of the top four.
However an indifferent run at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park last weekend helped open the door to a number of key rivals, headed by Australian Thomas Randle.
Four podiums and two race wins, including the coveted New Zealand Motor Cup, have vaulted the Melbourne pilot and his Victory Racing FT-50 into the lead of the points standings. He now carries a 27-point lead over Verschoor.
“We will push hard this weekend and I will try everything to take those points back,” says Verschoor.
“Taupo was really bad. We still don't know what went wrong. We just didn't have the speed from the first session on.
“Randle has been strong all series, but I will just try to finish in front every time. That is all I can do.”
Quiet achiever Pedro Piquet lies third, four points behind Verschoor after a patient sophomore season largely free of incident. Piquet leads M2 Competition teammate and leading New Zealander Marcus Armstrong by 47 points.
After a barnstorming debut outing that saw him take a win and a podium in his first two races, the 16-year-old Christchurch driver endured a rough patch that included two retirements.
However, two victories on the rebound at Hampton Downs and Bruce McLaren Park have thrown Armstrong back into contention, as well as made him the most frequent race winner of the season so far — three wins to the two of Randle, Verschoor, and Piquet.
A total of 225 points is up for grabs this weekend, meaning the top six drivers in the field (rounded out by Jehan Daruvala and Enaam Ahmed) are all mathematical chances to claim title honours.
Race one of the weekend takes place later this afternoon, with races two and three to follow tomorrow.