This afternoon's 64th New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild is shaping up to be one of the most interesting races of the junior open-wheel calendar.
Series leaders Liam Lawson and Marcus Armstrong are separated by just six points following this morning's reverse-grid race (321 points to 315). The third-placed Lucas Auer is now mathematically out of the championship running.
By virtue of a reversed top-eight, the pairing started on the fourth row of the grid. What ensued was an incredible, fascinating fight as they navigated the field in close proximity. There was rarely any contact between them, save for some Nascar-style bump drafting.
Click here to watch the New Zealand Grand Prix live stream.
While American driver Das took his first TRS win at the front, Lawson finished fifth — spot ahead of Armstrong — helping extend Lawson's championship lead from one point to three. While — somewhat in the background — M2 Competition was able to claim its 200th TRS podium finish (team drivers Das, Esteban Muth, and Auer completing the top three).
Effectively, it all means that today's 3.00pm NZGP will be a 'winner take all' exercise.
The championship duo's harshest race-two barrier was fellow Kiwi Brendon Leitch. Also racing with something to prove, the Invercargill driver fended off both countrymen successfully after running side-by-side numerous times (with Lawson in particular).
"One of the hardest races I've done," said Lawson following the 15-lap thriller.
"I had to focus on the car in front every single corner, and the same with the car behind. Watching where both of them were going. It was a good race, a hard race, bring on the Grand Prix."
"For me the focus is the championship. It's awesome to be going my first Grand Prix, alongside Kenny Smith is something very special also. As much as it will be awesome to win the Grand Prix, I'm here to win the championship. That's where all the focus is.
"If I have to finish second, as long as I finish ahead of the car that I have to, that's what I will do. It should be close."
Along with battling Lawson, Armstrong's race was made particularly difficult via an earlier exchange with Australian driver Calan Williams. The Aussie F3 champ afforded Armstrong little room exiting Higgins corner early in the race, with Armstrong returning the favour at the turn-four hairpin the following lap.
After initially finishing sixth, Armstrong was judged to have been at fault following the dice with Williams. It meant Armstrong incurred a five-second post-race penalty which pushed him down to ninth.
"It was frustrating, we overtook a lot of cars, but then unluckily got dealt to by another guy. Every time I did a move, I got done by the guy in front. Frustrating because we had really good speed, but was just impossible to get past," said Armstrong.
"I couldn't have attacked anymore than I did. This afternoon, it will be like that again, but I want a different outcome."
"If neither of us finishes, he [Lawson] wins the championship. So it is whoever beats who. It's nicer to be in the front, because if something goes wrong, he's won it."
The New Zealand Grand Prix is scheduled to kick off at 3.00pm, and lasts 35 laps.
Auer has pole, with Lawson and Armstrong second and third. Live streaming for the race is available by clicking here.