In a weekend when the Toyota Racing Series lead see-sawed back and forth between two of the fastest New Zealand drivers to ever contest the series, Liam Lawson wrestled back the points lead and Marcus Armstrong put his name on the Denny Hulme Memorial Cup.
The fourth round of the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series comprised three qualifying sessions and four races on the high speed Taupō circuit. There were the three regular round events plus the "make-up" 20-lap feature from the wind-affected Teretonga event.
Stung by his DNFs at the previous weekend's Hampton Downs round, Liam Lawson struck back, topping the early qualifying time sheets and then winning the first 20-lap race ahead of Lucas Auer and Marcus Armstrong. Auer has been working closer and closer to the pace of the two front-running Kiwis.
In the 15-lap race two it was Auer's turn to hoist a trophy, winning from Liam Lawson. There was bitter disappointment for Marcus Armstrong, keen to maximise points and preserve his championship lead, his car broke a front suspension component under braking. This sent Armstrong on a wild ride across the safety sand trap, but he was able to gather the car up before it hit the wall.
Returning to the track, he toured to the pits where a repair was made, then rejoined the race, but was not able to complete enough laps to be in the points.
After winning that race, Auer pulled a six from the hat for the partial reverse grid marble draw. That put Esteban Muth on pole, Brendon Leitch P2 and Artem Petrov P3.
Leitch clung tight to the back of Muth's car as the Belgian driver raced to his first win of the series. Behind him Marcus Armstrong was charging up through the field, having started dead last after his race two DNF.
The Christchurch-born driver clawed his way up to eighth, splitting the field, by the race end.
Unable to get close enough to catch a "tow" from the race leader, Leitch was forced to settle for second place, Lawson third and banking more points toward the title.
In qualifying for the feature race, though, Lawson's mojo seemed to fade and he was unable to rise further than fourth fastest. Pole went to Auer, with Armstrong alongside him. Esteban Muth would line up behind Auer and Lawson behind Armstrong.
At the green light, Armstrong got the best start of his weekend, shooting ahead of Auer into the first turn – and then simply ran away from the field as they battled their way through the corner. Heading away into the lap it was Armstrong, Auer, Muth and Lawson.
The sting went out of the race on lap 11, when Parker Locke and Petr Ptacek came together. Both trying to stay in the top 10, they touched wheels coming out of turn five and both spun off the track.
This forced the deployment of the safety car, bunching the field and undoing Armstrong's two-second lead.
On the restart, Armstrong held the whole field through the chicane and down to the start straight, then got cleanly away from Auer again.
The win brings Armstrong back into contention for the title and sets up a duel between him and Lawson at the Manfeild final and New Zealand Grand Prix, with Lucas Auer also in with a fighting chance.
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