World video game champ wins fairy-tale New Zealand Grand Prix and TRS title
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After a disciplined five-week campaign, Brazil's Igor Fraga has snatched away the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series title from Kiwi Liam Lawson, after winning the 65th New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon.
Heading into the race, Fraga was just two points behind Lawson in the standings. And with the pairing starting the series finale from pole (Fraga) and third (Lawson), a winner-takes-all scenario was on the cards. The New Zealander made a range of sharp moves in the opening laps to get to second, but he was unable to hang with Fraga's pace in the race — eventually fading back to third behind 2020 Rookie of the Year Franco Colapinto.
“I’m speechless. After finishing the race, I just can’t believe it,” said an emotional Fraga. “I would like to thank everyone that has supported me, obviously my parents. It’s been a long way to get here. I have had the support of many people, I’m just so thankful to all of them.”
“I tried everything,” said a dejected Lawson. “We had a really good car in qualifying this morning, but it was my mistake that I didn’t put it on pole – that was down to me. Well done to Igor, he’s driven well all season. [FIA F3 is a] really cool opportunity for me ahead for this year and I’m excited about that, but this one hurts.”
The finale was set up perfectly by a fascinating race two earlier in the day. The win went to series rookie Tijmen van der Helm, who headed Colapinto, Petr Ptacek, Fraga and Lawson. Lawson had held the advantage after yesterday's race, but only by four points — and the race two result had cut that down to just two points.
The opening laps of the Grand Prix were underlined by some scintillating driving from Lawson. With his fellow row-two rival Colapinto making a poor start, Lawson was able to challenge the leading pair off the start — filing behind Collet in third.
He then spent the next few laps threatening Collet everywhere before spending almost half a lap side-by-side with the Brazilian before finally getting by at turn one.
The move was the topic of brief discussion, as it happened almost in perfect unison with the declaration of a safety car for the crashed car of Henning Enqvist at Higgins corner. Camera footage showed Lawson made the move after the flags were put out, and he was able to retain his spot in second behind Fraga.
Lawson made a dive at Fraga in the turn-one braking zone, and then momentarily looked in the hunt for the lead again when Fraga ran wide at the turn five hairpin. But from there Fraga was able to grow a margin of just over a second until the second safety car on lap 12 for the beached car of Emilien Denner.
The race restarted with Fraga and Lawson leading Collet, Colapinto, Petr Ptacek, Gregoire Saucy, and Spike Kohlbecker. Race two winner van der Helm sat 11th, but was soon out of the Grand Prix when he spun at turn one into the sand — prompting yet another safety car.
The race restarted for a third time with 15 laps to go; Fraga once again deploying one of his slow trailing restarts. Lawson got a much better jump from second, and had a go around the outside of the race leader. Lawson momentarily took the lead, before pinching an outside wheel and drifting wide. Luckily for the Kiwi, he was able to retain second place over Collet and press on.
Things would head south somewhat for Collet in the following laps. After looking likely to threaten Lawson, he instead was mugged by Colapinto at Splash; contact sending the Renault Junior into a half spin. He somehow caught it, but the net result was Colapinto leaping up to third place and Collet.
Lawson again found himself getting gapped by Fraga. By lap 25 (with 10 laps to go) the margin was up to 1.3 seconds, and soon enough Lawson found himself under pressure from Colapinto behind. An apparent mis-shift on the back straight saw Lawson surrender second to Colapinto — effectively surrendering his NZGP and TRS title hopes.
Fraga wound up crossing the line with a large margin to second, sealing an emotional win with his father — Felipe Fraga [right] — and mentor Roberto Moreno [former Formula 1 driver and 1982 New Zealand Grand Prix winner, left]. Fraga and Lawson's rivalry is now set to continue in the 2020 FIA Formula 3 series.
Just off the NZGP podium Collet claimed fourth, ahead of Ptacek and a hard charging Yuki Tsunoda — having marched through the field to sixth at the end of a challenging season. Kohlbecker, Jackson Walls, Saucy, and Lucas Petersson rounded out the top 10.
Castrol Toyota Racing Series Round 5 Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon; Race 3 — New Zealand Grand Prix
1. Igor Fraga
2. Franco Colapinto
3. Liam Lawson
4. Caio Collet
5. Petr Ptacek
6. Yuki Tsunoda
7. Spike Kohlbecker
8. Jackson Walls
9. Gregoire Saucy
10. Lucas Petersson
11. Ido Cohen
12. Oliver Rasmussen
13. Lirim Zendeli
14. Axel Gnos
15. Kenny Smith
DNF. Tijmen van der Helm
DNF. Emilien Denner
DNF. Rui Andrade
DNF. Henning Enqvist
2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series standings
1. Igor Fraga — 362
2. Liam Lawson — 356
3. Franco Colapinto — 315
4. Yuki Tsunoda — 257
5. Petr Ptacek — 241
6. Gregoire Saucy — 220
7. Caio Collet — 219
8. Lirim Zendeli — 201
9. Ido Cohen — 164
10. Jackson Walls — 160
11. Oliver Rasmussen — 157
12. Lucas Petersson — 127
13. Spike Kohlbecker — 109
14. Tijmen van der Helm — 84
15. Emilien Denner — 72
16. Rui Andrade — 70
17. Henning Enqvist – 68
18. Axel Gnos — 60
19. Jose Blanco — 41
20. Chelsea Hebert — 10
21. Kenny Smith — 10
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