Liam Lawson won the New Zealand Grand Prix to become the Toyota Racing Series champion at Manfeild and round off the most successful campaign in the history of M2 Competition.
The 16-year-old from Pukekohe, New Zealand, sealed the title – and the Chris Amon Trophy – by just 10 points from team-mate Marcus Armstrong as he also wrapped up the Rookie of the Year crown.
Trailing by five points as the weekend began, Marcus out-dragged his pole-sitting team-mate at the start of Saturday’s race and dominated proceedings to win for the fifth time this year and close the gap to a single point.
Having finished second in the opener, Liam redressed the balance in Sunday morning’s partially-reversed-grid race, finishing fifth with Marcus sixth; a result that became ninth following a harsh five-second penalty for aggressive driving.
Moving into the lead of the season finale; the 35-lap grand prix, Marcus pulled out a significant lead until the second of three red flags in an attrition-affected race bunched the field up.
He and Liam ran side-by-side for three corners as they disputed the lead; Liam running off-track and falling to fourth in an incident Marcus would be judged to have caused; meaning five seconds would be added to his race time.
Liam recovered to second with a sensational two-in-one pass at the next restart, which became his fifth win of the year once the penalty was applied to on-the-road winner Marcus.
It was M2’s fifth consecutive New Zealand GP victory and sixth in total, a fifth Drivers’ title to add to the Teams’ championship that was secured at Taupo and a record-breaking 14th win in a single season.
Cameron Das claimed his maiden series win in dominant fashion in Race Two. Having started from the outside of the front row on the partially-reversed grid, the American maintained his composure during a mid-race red flag to dominate proceedings.
His victory was a landmark 200th podium finish for M2 in the Toyota Racing Series (a number since increased to 204) and also made the team the first in series history to achieve wins with six different drivers in the same season.
Cameron had finished seventh the previous day, but his grand prix ended at one-third distance as he was involved in a six-car incident that brought out the red flags and also eliminated team-mates Lucas Auer and Artem Petrov.
A supreme performance in Sunday qualifying had given Lucas his third pole position of the year and he lined up in the top spot for the grand prix.
Having finished third in the opener, he staged a stirring drive through the field to climb from sixth to second in Race Two; his seventh podium of the year that helped him to complete an all-M2 top-three in the Drivers’ Championship.
Esteban Muth produced a pair of third-row starts in qualifying and drove consistently to finish sixth in the opening race and then to improve to fifth on Sunday morning.
The Belgian, who claimed his first win at Taupo last weekend, ran inside the top three throughout the GP and completed an all-M2 podium, only to be docked five seconds and fall to fifth when judged to have driven aggressively early on.
Artem; the other M2 driver eliminated in the multi-car incident with broken right-front suspension, had staged a heroic fightback of his own just to start the race.
Suffering from illness all weekend – including a high temperature – he took part in both qualifying sessions, but elected not to start either of the first two races.
The Russian; a race winner at Hampton Downs, finished the year ninth in the Drivers’ points.
Liam Lawson said: “It feels absolutely amazing to win the Toyota Racing Series title and I have to say a massive thank you to M2 Competition because they’ve done an incredible job this season. I was so nervous going into that last race because I knew things were so close that they could fall away at any time, and I pretty much thought it was over when I was run off the track, but we got it done. It’s been such a close fight with Marcus all season, but it’s done now. It feels incredible. It might take a while for it to sink in because I still can’t quite believe it’s happened.”
Marcus Armstrong said: “Naturally I’m disappointed not to win the championship, but both as a weekend and as a season I can pretty confidently say I represented myself well. Nobody won more races than me and I finished first or second at every round, so I’m proud of the way I performed and really enjoyed the dynamic within the team across the five weeks. Race One was a good win and I had the pace for the rest of the weekend; I was just a bit unlucky with the placement of the traffic in Race Two and then had two penalties for absolutely nothing; two passes that would be perfectly legal in any other championship.”
Cameron Das said: “It feels fantastic to be a winner in the TRS; especially against such a high-quality group of drivers. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work across the whole season and of me learning from mistakes from earlier in the season. We weren’t quite there with the pace on Saturday, but a long discussion with my engineer threw up a solution that turned out to be exactly what we needed. The pace in Race Two was good and I was able to get the first win and that set us up well for the grand prix. Unfortunately, my race ended just as the track was coming to the car, but we’ve made our point.”
Lucas Auer said: “Pole position and two podiums is a good return on the weekend. On Saturday it took us a bit longer than we’d hoped to understand what the different tyre pressures were doing to the cars, but by Sunday we had a very good set-up. Pole for the grand prix was fantastic and the reversed-grid race was very good too as I was up to second quite quickly from sixth. I made a bad start in the grand prix and after about three laps I just had no pace. I tried to block quite hard, but I ended up with a DNF. I’ve finished third in the championship and I’m pretty happy that this prepares me very well for my return season in a single-seater.”
Esteban Muth said: “I’ve been in the top six all weekend, which makes this one of my strongest events, and my start in Race Two in particular was strong. The penalty in the grand prix was a shame, because I honestly don’t agree with the decision, but as a whole, the TRS has been very good. I’ve had a win and been close to some others as well and my pace has improved from the first round through to this weekend. As a driver, working with the team and the engineers has improved me and I’m now looking forward to racing in Europe for the rest of the season.”
Artem Petrov said: “This weekend has been very hard because I have not felt well. I have had a very high temperature and that has made driving the car very tough. After qualifying on Saturday I felt terrible, but I was determined to take part in the grand prix and I qualified quite well. I think the top six was very possible in the grand prix, but I broke my suspension when the guys ahead of me just stopped at the hairpin and I couldn’t avoid them in time.”
Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “It’s been an incredible day and an incredible season. We’ve broken the all-time Toyota Racing Series wins record and set a new single-year benchmark, won races with all six of our drivers and even managed to get them all on the podium on the same day at Hampton a couple of weeks ago. Today is the best feeling of all though. Our drivers have set the pace at every single event and I’d like to congratulate every single member of the M2 Competition team for what’s been our best season. Marcus and Liam have been neck-and-neck for the title all year and the amount of respect they’ve shown each other on track has been extremely impressive for two teenagers and it’s entirely appropriate that they’ve been the ones to take the fight right down to the last lap of the season.”
Castrol Toyota Racing Series final Drivers’ Championship (after Rd 5/5*)
1 Liam Lawson (NZ) – 356pts
2 Marcus Armstrong (NZ) – 346
3 Lucas Auer (A) – 270
4 Raoul Hyman (RSA) – 270
5 Esteban Muth (B) – 258
6 Brendon Leitch (NZ) – 245
7 Cameron Das (USA) – 205
9 Artem Petrov (RU) – 181
*M2 drivers in bold
1 M2 Competition – 761pts
2 Giles Motorsport – 407
3 MTEC Motorsport – 379
4 Victory Motor Racing – 306