Liam Lawson is the 2019 New Zealand Grand Prix winner and the Castrol Toyota Racing Series champion after a dramatic finale at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon this afternoon in the Manawatu.
In a race peppered by Safety Cars, race stoppages and penalties, Lawson emerged through it all to take both prizes. A devastated Marcus Armstrong was given a five second penalty for a move on Lawson during the race, but it proved to be academic. Once Lawson had established himself in second place late on after the third race restart, there was nothing Armstrong could do to prevent Lawson winning the series on points. He tried his best to win the Grand Prix with a series of super-fast laps as he tried find the five seconds he needed to mitigate his penalty, but Lawson responded and Armstrong, for the second year in a row at the Grand Prix, was left with only crumbs.
After the race, Lawson sought out Armstrong in the garages to console him after an epic championship that put the Castrol New Zealand Racing Series firmly on the motorsport radar as the best series in the world at this time of year for up and coming single seater racers. Rivalries aside, it was a touching gesture from one star of the future to another.
“It was a weird race and I reckon I fluked the start as I have been having a few issues with those throughout the season, but it all came together and I had already made the move I needed to secure the championship when I heard about Marcus’s penalty on the radio. I was racing with the championship in mind so to end up winning the Grand Prix is very special. I was a bit emotional on the warm down lap. People were on the radio and I was getting some lovely messages. It’s very special. I have enjoyed racing with Marcus and although there’s a rivalry on track, we’ve become friends during the series and I can understand how disappointed he was after the race. It’s been a great championship, however, and he’s been a huge part of that.”
The race itself was not a clean one. Lawson made a great start to lead Auer towards the first turn but Armstrong kept coming and briefly had his nose in front as the pack exited the first corner. Lawson then fought back through the infield to retake the lead, while Armstrong had pole position man Lucas Auer, after a slow start, filling his mirrors.
With a long race ahead of them the race settled down a lot quicker than some of the other encounters in the championship and although Armstrong made a couple of good attempts on Lawson, after five laps it was Liam from Marcus with Lucas Auer, Esteban Muth, Brendon Leitch, Raoul Hyman, Cameron Das, Petr Ptacek, Thomas Smith, Artem Petrov, Calan Williams, Jackson Walls, Kazuto Kotaka, Dev Gore, 77 year old Kenny Smith and Parker Locke playing catch up after an early off.
Lawson was the quickest car on the track over the opening laps around a tenth faster per lap than Marcus and with a lead of just over a second, as the top two started to gap the rest of the field. On lap 7 the series came to an end for Czech racer Petr Ptacek when he went off at the notorious final turn, bringing out the Safety Car which was quickly followed by the red flag. The track was quickly cleared and the race underway again, but there was more drama to come.
Lawson made a great restart hitting the throttle hard out of the final corner and gained a couple of car lengths on Armstrong. Lucas Auer had got away well too and was looking to challenge. Armstrong was having none of it however and quickly set about chasing after Lawson, the two with more pace than those around them. A lap later and Auer had slipped back into the clutches of Belgian Esteban Muth who pulled off a great pass on the Austrian around turn one for third. Auer fought back but Muth went side by side with him through the infield and came out in front. This lost Auer momentum and he was quickly passed by Brendon Leitch. Into the infield hairpin and Sunday morning winner Cameron Das fancied his chances too, diving down the inside just as Auer turned into the corner. The two touched, Auer was tipped off and it triggered a six car pile-up.
Armstrong got a better restart and was by exiting turn one. Lawson tried to follow but was forced wide onto the grass and Armstrong was through. The stewards weren’t impressed however, and quickly docked the Ferrari Junior a five second time penalty. Muth and Leitch both found a way past and to gasps from the crowd, Lawson was able to re-join in fourth. Armstrong quickly established a cushion over the Belgian while Lawson was already making up lost ground and re-passed Leitch for third.
Yet another Safety Car and race stoppage came a lap later on lap 16 when Jackson Walls and Dev Gore touched at high speed in a scary clash that left Gore’s car on top of Walls. Thankfully both were fine but the shunt caused yet another lengthy delay and a field reduced dramatically to eight cars.
The field set off again some ten laps later, with Lawson positioning himself fourth on track behind Muth and Leitch as that was where he had been prior to the red. At the first turn he did what he needed to do to secure enough points for the championship by diving inside a duelling Muth and Leitch and to cheers from the crowd emerged in second.
Moments later he heard about Armstrong’s penalty and the race at the front was largely done. Armstrong crossed the line a few laps later, disconsolate while Lawson followed him home. Behind the top two – once a wad of post-race penalties had been processed – Kazuto Kotaka claimed the final spot on the podium with Raoul Hyman, Esteban Muth, Brendon Leitch, Parker Locke and the amazing Kenny Smith rounding out the finishers.
Only eight cars finished the Grand Prix after the most incident-packed race of the 15 race championship.
2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series – New Zealand Grand Prix, Manfeild, Result
1. Liam Lawson (New Zealand) Cameron Das (United States)
2. Marcus Armstrong (New Zealand)
3. Kazuto Kotaka (Japan)
4. Raoul Hyman (United Kingdom)
5. Esteban Muth (Belgium)
6. Brendon Leitch (New Zealand)
7. Parker Locke (United States)
8. Kenny Smith (New Zealand)
DNF: Dev Gore (United States)
DNF: Jackson Walls (Australia)
DNF: Lucas Auer (Austria)
DNF: Cameron Das (United States)
DNF: Calan Williams (Australia)
DNF Petr Ptacek (Czech Republic)
DNF: Thomas Smith (Australia)
DNF: Artem Petrov (Russia)
DNF: Petru Florescu (Romania)