Just one single point separates first and second in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series standings heading into the final day of the five-week championship.
The tantalising scenario comes off the back of the first race of the category's weekend at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, where the Christchurch teenager took victory over series leader Liam Lawson. The win earned Armstrong the Dan Higgins Memorial Trophy, claws back his title gap, and ensures a grandstand finish to the championship for the third year running.
"We're back in game!" said a delighted Armstrong.
"To be honest, there was a little bit of a question mark over our qualifying speed and what happened. Liam [Lawson] is doing a really good job, I have to give him that, but I don't give up and it's going to go down to the very end I'm sure.
"Tomorrow is going to be a big day."
Off the start, Armstrong won the race to turn one with ease; leading Lawson, Lucas Auer, a fast-starting Brendon Leitch, and the rest of the 16-car grid (Artem Petrov was absent from the grid, due to illness).
Those in the top seven endured a relatively straightforward first 12 laps. Lawson was unable to make much ground over Armstrong, while Auer, Leitch, Calan Williams, Cameron Das, and Esteban Muth pressed on line astern.
The main point of focus in the early laps was the fight for eighth. Raoul Hyman, Jackson Walls, and Kazuto Kotaka diced for the position all around the Manfeild circuit. The South African and Australian drivers made contact at the final corner on the last of their side-by-side exchanges — momentarily locking wheels but somehow each saving themselves from a major crash.
Kotaka took the spot at that time while Hyman — by virtue of an off-track excursion at Higgins corner — fell to the back of the order shortly after. Kotaka's next rival to fiercely fend off was Walls. But on lap 11, Kotaka too would run wide at Higgins. It proved to be the trigger for an incident that would change the race
Kotaka lost spots while recovering down the back straight, and then into the final corner he lost control and spun. Behind him, Czech driver Petr Ptacek had nowhere to go, and while trying to avoid the Japanese driver clipped his spinning car. Kotaka spun into the sandtrap, and Ptacek collected the wall at speed. A red flag was promptly flown and, thankfully, both drivers were able to clamber out of their crashed cars unscathed.
After a long clean-up period the race restarted with just five laps to go, Armstrong's margin to Lawson back to naught — likewise for Auer, Leitch, Williams,and beyond.
Lawson applied a constant pressure to Armstrong, but a wide moment at the last corner sent him bouncing over the ripple strip and spoiled his momentum. It left Armstrong to win by 1.1 seconds; Lawson and Auer rounding out an all-M2 Competition podium. Adrift of the leaders, Kenny Smith in his return to the series finished a commendable 13th.
Tomorrow's two Toyota Racing Series races take place at 11.40am and 3.00pm. The first will be a partial reverse-grid race lasting 15 laps, while the second is the 64th annual New Zealand Grand Prix.
1. Marcus Armstrong
2. Liam Lawson
3. Lucas Auer
4. Brendon Leitch
5. Calan Williams
6. Esteban Muth
7. Cameron Das
8. Petru Florescu
9. Raoul Hyman
10. Jackson Walls
11. Dev Gore
12. Parker Locke
13. Kenny Smith
14. Thomas Smith
DNF. Kazuto Kotaka
DNF. Petr Ptacek
DNS. Artem Petrov