Liam Lawson and M2 Competiton kicked off the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series with an astonishing double victory at Highlands Motorsport Park, New Zealand.
Sixteen-year-old Lawson, who was making his TRS debut, started Saturday’s dry opening race second, snatched the lead at the start, and drove off into the distance for a nine-second victory; breaking the lap record by over 1.5 seconds in the process.
He repeated that success in Sunday’s main race, the 30-lap Dorothy Smith Memorial Trophy, as he mastered damp, but drying conditions in his wet-tyred Toyota FT-50 to run third early on, pass team-mates Marcus Armstrong and Lucas Auer and claim the biggest win of his career.
The New Zealander finished fifth in Race Two to leave Highlands on top of the championship for M2.
Marcus – a five-time race winner in TRS already – set the pace in free practice and grabbed pole position for the opener.
Unfortunately, the Ferrari Driver Academy member was given three-place grid penalty for setting his best lap under yellow-flag conditions at the end of proceedings.
Marcus, 18, finished second in the opener and then added a third and another second on Sunday on an ultra-consistent weekend that leaves him second in the championship, just four points off the lead and with 75 available for each of the remaining 12 races.
Lucas Auer marked his single-seater comeback with pole position for Race Three; the 24-year-old Austrian swapping places with Marcus four times at the end of Sunday morning’s session and grabbing the top spot by just six hundredths of a second.
He finished third in Race One after a determined drive from fifth on the grid, but retired from a top-six spot on Sunday morning due to contact with the pit wall.
Sensational work from the M2 team effected significant repairs on his car to get him out for Race Three and Lucas rewarded his crew with fourth.
Esteban Muth made a big impression on his series debut as the 17-year-old Belgian dominated Race Two, having been drawn on pole position on its top-six reversed grid.
Sadly, the protégé of Le Mans 24 Hours winner Andre Lotterer was penalised five seconds for jumping the initial start of a race that was red-flagged on the opening lap and resumed – with the cars in their original order – shortly afterwards.
He dropped to fourth in the results; still his best finish of the weekend after recording sixth and 11th spots in the other two races.
American driver Cameron Das was second-fastest in Friday’s opening practice session and qualified fourth for the Race One, only to fall victim to the same yellow-flag infringement as several other drivers. He scored a sixth on old tyres in Race Two, a seventh and a ninth.
Russian Artem Petrov, one of three M2 drivers making their TRS debut, improved as the weekend wore on. After an incident on Friday damaged his car and caused him to miss the final session, he bounced back to start fifth for Race Three and finish sixth; a superb result after an early collision in Race Two had forced M2’s mechanics into more repairs.
The TRS continues with Round Two at Teretonga this weekend (January 19-20).
Liam Lawson said: “To have a weekend like this is an absolute dream come true. It’s my first time racing in TRS and while I was aiming for the podium and to be the top newcomer, to score two wins and have this level of pace in the wet and the dry was just unreal. To be the winner of the Dorothy Smith Memorial Trophy too is a pretty emotional thing for me. I met Kenny Smith [New Zealand racing legend and Dorothy’s husband] four or five years ago and he’s been an amazing mentor me ever since, so this one means an awful lot. Being in a team like M2 with drivers like Marcus and Lucas gives such an opportunity to learn, and I definitely took onboard a lot this weekend, but it wasn’t perfect and we definitely need to work on qualifying for the next few rounds to make sure we can keep improving during the session, rather than peaking at the start.”
Marcus Armstrong said: “We’ve scored big points this weekend when you consider we didn’t win a race, and that could be crucial in the championship battle. It took me a little longer to adjust back to the car than I’d have liked, but still set the pace in practice and qualifying. It’s a shame to get the grid penalty that put me back to fourth, but I simply never saw any yellow flags. To finish second and then get third in the reversed-grid race after starting fifth were both good results and then in the last race I lost the tyres after five laps and was sliding everywhere, so I just focused on going around as consistently as I could and it paid off with another second place. It’s going to be a long five weeks, but I have no doubt we’ll be very quick at the next few circuits.”
Lucas Auer said: “I’m pleased with the outright speed we showed this weekend. To take pole position on Sunday on my first time back in a TRS car for six years was very good, but there were also some difficult moments. We went for the wrong strategy in Saturday qualifying, but recovered well in Race One and after making a bad start, I was able to overtake a few cars and finish third. In Race Two I crashed after I tried to overtake around the outside and hit the wall. The team did an amazing job to fix the car for Race Three and I finished fourth, but it was a very strange feeling on wet tyres in the dry and I didn’t really like it. My aim in New Zealand is to use TRS to get myself back into the rhythm of racing a single-seater. If I can make this into a title fight, then I will.”
Esteban Muth said: “It’s been a strong weekend and even though I lost the win in Race Two because of a penalty, we can see that there is good speed and this is the most pleasing thing. I found it quite tough in the pre-race test to learn the circuit and adapt to the TRS car, which has a lot more power and downforce than the F4s I’ve been used to, and very different brakes too. But the laptimes were good and I was pleased to qualify fifth and finish sixth on Saturday. From pole on the reversed grid, I controlled the race on used tyres and actually, things felt pretty comfortable too. It’s a shame I was penalised for a jump start because I lost places off the line and then we had the red flag on the first lap, after which everything was re-set, but at least the speed was there. I’m excited about the rest of the season now and I’m sure we can be at the front at some of the upcoming tracks.”
Cameron Das said: “Highlands is the only circuit on the calendar that I have no experience of, so I was expecting this to be the biggest challenge, but despite this, things started well with fastest time in FP1. In Saturday qualifying I felt pole position was possible and on my final lap it looked good, but then there was a car off the track and a yellow flag. Although I backed off in the relevant sector, the lap as a whole was my fastest, so I was penalised three spots and started seventh. Starting in the midfield was always going to be tough and I lost a couple of places when I made a mistake on a downshift and ran wide. Ninth wasn’t what I wanted, but in Race Two I made up three spots to finish sixth on old rubber so I could keep my new slicks for Race Three. Unfortunately, it rained and we all raced on wets, so I didn’t get the advantage of holding back my new slicks. The track dried very quickly and managing your rear wets over a 20-lap race was tough, but I finished seventh and scored some useful points. I expect to be able to attack hard at Teretonga this weekend.”
Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “To start the season with a double win and six podiums for three different drivers – and at a circuit none of our drivers have been to before – is a great achievement, and had it not been for Esteban’s unfortunate penalty, it would have been a treble win too. Liam did an awesome job to win in the wet and the dry, Marcus scored three crucial podiums, Lucas was on pole for the main race on his first time back in a single-seater since 2013 and Artem and Cameron both showed great speed themselves at various points of the weekend. It’s been a great start, and we have all our drivers in the championship top 10, but it was only possible thanks to the tireless work and organisation of our mechanics, who had three pretty major repairs to undertake over the weekend, but got them all completed impeccably.”
Castrol Toyota Racing Series Drivers’ Championship after Rd 1/5*
1 Liam Lawson (NZ) – 82pts
2 Marcus Armstrong (NZ) – 78
3 Raoul Hyman (RSA) – 59
4 Brendon Leitch (NZ) – 56
5 Lucas Auer (A) – 51
6 Petr Ptacek (CZ) – 48
7 Esteban Muth (B) – 44
8 Cameron Das (USA) – 42
10 Artem Petrov (RU) – 32
*M2 drivers in bold
Notes to editors
Main: Liam Lawson, Castrol Toyota Racing Series, M2 Competition, Highlands, New Zealand; Lower (Top) Marcus Armstrong, Castrol Toyota Racing Series, M2 Competition, Highlands, New Zealand; (Middle L) Esteban Muth, Castrol Toyota Racing Series, M2 Competition, Highlands, New Zealand; (R) Lucas Auer, Castrol Toyota Racing Series, M2 Competition, Highlands, New Zealand; (Bottom L) Artem Petrov, Castrol Toyota Racing Series, M2 Competition, Highlands, New Zealand; (R) Cameron Das, Castrol Toyota Racing Series, M2 Competition, Highlands, New Zealand.
About M2 Competition
Founded by Jonathan Moury and Mark Pilcher in 2010, and now co-owned with Spa 24 Hours-winning Engineer Elise Moury, M2 Competition are the most successful single-seater team in New Zealand motor racing of the past decade. They have won the Toyota Racing Series eight times, including four Drivers’ titles with Nick Cassidy (2013), Lance Stroll (2015), Lando Norris (2016) and Robert Schwartzman (2018) and have an unrivalled reputation in the series. Further notable alumnus include Le Mans 24 Hours winner Earl Bamber, Formula E racer Alex Lynn, IndyCar ace Jordan King and GT star Raffaele Marciello. In 2019 M2 will enter the Formula Renault Eurocup Cup from their European base near Brussels; adding a European programme alongside their TRS campaign.
About the Castrol Toyota Racing Series
Designed to develop and nurture the next generation of world class driver’s, The Castrol Toyota Racing Series is proudly supported by Toyota New Zealand. The only class in New Zealand motorsport that offers aspiring racers vital experience with wings, slicks and composite technologies, The Castrol Toyota Racing Series is Toyota’s commitment to nurturing our next generation of top level racing talent. No other manufacturer has made the same long term commitment to motorsport as Toyota. Drivers in the National Championship series compete for every major title and trophy in the sport. The series attracts Premier Gold Star status along with the New Zealand Grand Prix title, one of only two FIA-sanctioned Grand Prix race events outside of Formula One. As one of only two FIA sanctioned grand prix race events outside of Formula 1, the Castrol Toyota Racing series attracts Premier Gold Star status, making it a truly world class motorsport event. 2019 marks the 15th anniversary of the series, which has been a stepping stone to Formula 1 for drivers such as Lance Stroll, Brendon Hartley, Lando Norris and Daniil Kvyat.