M2 Competition became Toyota Racing Series Teams’ Champions for a record-breaking fifth straight season as four of their drivers shared the wins at Taupo.
While Marcus Armstrong won the showpiece Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy to keep the battle for the Drivers’ title finely poised, his chief rival Liam Lawson, Lucas Auer and Esteban Muth were also victorious for the team.
Having arrived at Taupo as the championship leader, Marcus finished third in Saturday’s opener, but suffered terrible luck when a broken suspension rocker put him out of Race Two while lying third.
That result put him at the back of the grid of Sunday’s reversed-grid race, but the Ferrari Driver Academy member recovered well to eighth and made the most of a front-row spot for the Trophy race to snatch the lead immediately and streak to his fourth win of the year.
“It’s been a mixed weekend, but it’s ended very well with victory in the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy and it’s great to win that for a second time and to be part of the championship-winning team again,” commented Armstrong. “I was really fast in practice quite easily and for reasons we don’t understand, we just couldn’t replicate that speed until the final two races, which were very good. Now we look ahead to Manfeild where the aim will be to win the Drivers’ title.”
Liam took full advantage of Marcus’s suspension problem to turn a 34-point deficit in the Drivers’s Championship into a five-point advantage with 90 available at this weekend’s season finale.
The 16-year-old rookie did this by finishing on the podium in each of the four races and scoring more points than anybody else; 111 in total.
After taking a double-pole position, he dominated the opener and added second place later on. He finished third twice on Sunday; his Race Four result coming after a decisive late pass on team-mate Esteban.
“Two poles, a win and four podiums; that’s a really good weekend,” said Lawson. “Practice was a bit of a struggle, but we found the speed for qualifying and it was great to be on pole in the dry. In Race One I made a good start and controlled things, but in Races Two and Four I found it hard to pass, especially when you’re chasing another M2 car, because they’re generally strong in the same areas as you.
“Generally, I chose not to gamble on any risky moves and preserve the points, but I did make a good move for second in Race Four and it’s nice to come away leading the championship ahead of the final round.”
Having overtaken Marcus for the runner-up spot in Race One, Lucas Auer dominated Saturday evening’s encounter after getting the jump as the lights went out.
His first single-seater victory for nearly five years was followed by his second pole position of the season the next morning. He completed his weekend with seventh and second on Sunday to climb to fourth in the Drivers’ points.
“This was really where our 2019 season started and it’s been what we’ve been waiting for since Highlands; a weekend where the car is completely sorted and we didn’t have one single issue to sort,” commented Auer. “You can see that from a weekend like this, the results are a win, a pole and two second places, which is exactly the kind of event I was aiming for. I’m going to Manfeild now aiming to continue this form and finish in the top three of the championship. You never know; it could be even higher.”
Esteban scored a milestone victory in Race Three as he became the first Belgian to win in the TRS.
The protégé of Le Mans 24 Hours winner Andre Lotterer resisted intense race-long pressure to claim the spoils just hours after qualifying a career-best third for the finale, in which he finished fourth.
He was eighth and sixth on Saturday and is now the only driver that can deny Liam the Rookie of the Year title, as well as maintaining a shot at the overall crown.
Having claimed his own first victory at Hampton Downs last time out, Artem Petrov was a model of consistency at Taupo.
He finished fourth in both of Saturday’s races and then produced an identical result in Sunday’s opener.
Hopeful of a podium in the Trophy race, the Russian’s chances were dealt a huge blow when he suffered front-wing damage at the first corner. Great work from the M2 crew in the pits got him back on-track, but contact from another rival put him out with three laps left.
Cameron Das made an excellent start to the weekend by qualifying a career-best fifth for the opening race and then finishing sixth.
Unfortunately, the American was penalised 30 seconds for side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel contact with a rival and dropped to 15th – which was where he started the next race.
Some masterful overtaking moves brought him to 11th in Race Two and fifth in Race Three. He claimed eighth in the finale.
The Toyota Racing Series concludes this weekend at Manfeild with the season’s biggest event; the New Zealand Grand Prix and Liam, Marcus, Lucas and Esteban all in with a chance of becoming 2019 Champion.