The Castrol Toyota Racing Series New Zealand civil war between Marcus Armstrong (Christchurch) and Liam Lawson (Pukekohe) is again in focus, following today's two races in Taupō. Lawson now holds a slim five-point lead over Armstrong — effectively making up for his high-profile DNF at Hampton Downs just a week ago.
The critical moment of the day unfolded in the second race, when Armstrong's Auckland City Toyota–backed FT-50 encountered an apparent suspension failure at turn one while sitting in second place ahead of Lawson.
The failure saw Armstrong circulate back to pit-lane, where the team repaired the issue and sent him back out. He crossed the line in 16th place, but because he hadn't completed 75 per cent of the race he wasn't classified as a finisher.
Lawson meanwhile scooped second, after a fascinating race-long battle with eventual winner Lucas Auer (they finished up separated by just four tenths of a second.
"Its good points for us, but frustrating to finish second when we started off pole," Lawson mused after the race.
"In the back of my mind I knew Marcus [Armstrong] was out, and we needed the points. There were times where I could have gone for the pass, but it would have been risky. We crashed at the last round, so didn't want a repeat of that."
It was Auer's first race win of the season, after a difficult opening few rounds underlined by crashes.
"We have had a very smooth weekend up to now. It's a lot easier to work without any problems," said Auer.
"I won the start and pushed very hard then calmed down a bit. I tried to look after the tyres because this track is so aggressive on tyres. Unless you make a big mistake here, no body will overtake you. It was a clean, good race."
Lawson's second-place in race two backed up a comfortable win in race one, where he finished almost two seconds ahead of Auer, Armstrong, Artem Petrov, and Raoul Hyman.
The big talking point of race one was the scrap further down the top 10 for seventh, as Jackson Walls, Brendon Leitch, and Cameron Das all fought for position. Walls, despite being in theory one round behind the rest in experience, defended well against the chasing pack.
The battle pack was a pressure cooker, and eventually it was Leitch that lost out — contact from a sliding Das sending him into a spin at turn 11. He eventually recovered for 14th, while Das incurred a penalty.
Race two's most physical battle again involved Walls — but this time he was battling with Japanese driver Kazuto Kotaka for eighth. The dice peaked when they made contact coming out of the last corner. Kotaka lost his front wing in the process; flipping his arms up in anger before tumbling down the order.
It was Hyman that rounded out the top three in race two, while Petrov and Leitch completed the top five.
Two more races follow tomorrow; the first at 11.30am (15 laps, reverse grid) and the second at 3.00pm (20 laps), with the latter set to decide this year's recipient of the Denny Hulme trophy. Click here to watch the live stream.