On his first attempt in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series, Pukekohe ace Liam Lawson has stormed to victory — leading home fellow Kiwi Marcus Armstrong earlier this afternoon at Highlands Motorsport Park.
"It was very unexpected," said a tired Lawson after the 15-lap race.
"It's quite difficult to pass on this track, so I really wanted to get the jump and be in the lead by turn one. But we managed to do that, and then from there I just had to drive the car."
The drama began before the race even started, with numerous cars getting penalised after qualifying for setting their fastest laps while a yellow flag was flying for the crashed car of American driver Parker Locke. Included in those was Armstrong, who had initially scored pole position on his return to the series.
Armstrong's penalty dropped him down to fourth, which promoted Raoul Hyman into pole position and Lawson up to second.
Come lap one, and that order in the top two was promptly reversed. Lawson made a good start to run side-by-side down the front straight with Hyman before getting by at the bus-stop.
"Obviously I was a little disappointed after qualifying, because I didn't quite have the pace for pole," Lawson said. "We worked at it, we looked at a lot of things between then and now."
From there the race was largely straightforward for the former Formula 1600 champion. Three sequential sharp laps blew out the margin to Hyman, and he never looked under threat after that. He eventually took the chequered flag with a nine-second margin up his sleeve.
The race behind Lawson was a mad dash. Hyman looked to initially have it sorted, but he soon faded into the clutches of a fast Armstrong and former DTM pilot Lucas Auer.
While Armstrong had been bombing along to try and make up for his qualifying penalty, Auer had chipped away. He had started the race from an almost underwhelming fifth, but after dispatching Esteban Muth early he was tracking Armstrong and Hyman.
The trio converged with two laps to go, with both Armstrong and Auer finding their way by Hyman to fill out the second and third slots on the podium.
Fifth place went to Brendon Leitch, ensuring that three Kiwis would finish in the top five. The Invercargill driver started sixth (having been bumped upwards one slot by the penalties), and soon found himself enthralled in a vigorous battle for fifth with Cameron Das.
Das made numerous advances to try and steal the spot from Leitch, only to go off after the bridge. He toured the sand, but luckily was able to rejoin the fray. He ended up finishing ninth; behind Muth, Petr Ptacek, and Kazuto Kotaka — and ahead of Artem Petrov in 10th.