The chasing pack has closed the gap on championship leader Marcus Armstrong after the first race of three at the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Manfeild.

Armstrong was only able to finish fifth in the Saturday race and his lead in the Toyota Racing Series is down to just 15 points with 34 separating the top three with two final races on Sunday to decide the title.

Dutchman Richard Verschoor took advantage of his pole position to clear away and keep his championship hopes alive.

"The car was strong. I need another good start in the Grand Prix," said Verschoor.

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Russian Robert Shwartzman finished second having started the race on the second row. He kept pace with Verschoor and thought about making a dive at him.

"It was very close," said Shwartzman. "I tried to catch Richard for a while, but then decided not to take any risks."

Brit Clement Novalak completed the podium while Kiwi Brendon Leitch was fourth.
Veteran driver Kenny Smith came home 13th in his first race in the series.

"I got a bit too aggressive half way through the race," said Smith, who had fallen off the back of a bunch dicing for places at the bottom of the top 10.

Sunday's action features a reverse order morning race before the Grand Prix in the afternoon, which serves as the championship finale.

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