M2 Competition re-wrote Castrol Toyota Racing Series history at Teretonga Park last weekend by scoring a record-breaking 60th race win as part of an incredible top-five lock-out.
It was Marcus Armstrong, 18, who claimed that record victory in a wet opening race; the Ferrari Driver Academy member coming out on top in a late battle with team-mate and fellow New Zealander Liam Lawson.
Liam, 16, had claimed his maiden TRS pole position earlier in the day, but bogged down at the start and dropped to third; handing the advantage to fellow front-row starter Marcus.
Having passed team-mate Artem Petrov for second early on, Liam began to close the gap on Marcus as he aimed for another win to add to the two he scored at Highlands.
A late-race safety car helped close the gap between the pair still further and they ran side-by-side around the daunting ‘Loop’ section within sight of the chequered flag.
After a brilliant display of on-track respect for each other, the team-mates ran nose-to-tail for the remainder of the 20-lap race.
Victory for Marcus was the sixth of his TRS career and move him level on points with Liam at the top of the championship. It was also the third win in four races in 2019 for M2.
Artem, who had sprinted up from eighth on the grid to second at the start, remained in close contention throughout and the Russian finished third to claim his maiden TRS podium on only his second weekend in the series.
Behind him, American Cameron Das made a late move to take fourth and his best TRS finish to date.
Lucas Auer made it an all-M2 top five – the third time the team has achieved this incredible feat – while Belgian Esteban Muth qualified an impressive fifth, dropped to 13th at the start, and hauled himself back up to ninth by the finish.
A repeat result looked likely on Sunday with Lucas on the front row for Race Two on the partially-reversed grid, five M2 cars inside the top six starting spots, and qualifying for the Spirit of a Nation Trophy Race-Three finale to come.
Unfortunately, following overnight rain, and with concerns over predicted 120kph wins, the entire TRS programme for the day was cancelled.
Both races have been rescheduled for the upcoming rounds at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park and Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park (Taupo), turning both events into bumper four-race weekends.
Marcus Armstrong said: “The weekend was pretty alright and it’s obviously great to get my first win of the season and to help M2 break the all-time wins record. Qualifying was a bit strange because the expected increase in grip never came as the session wore on, so my best time was set in the middle. I started the race well and just focused on managing the gap to Liam. The few laps after the safety-car restart were fun and the racing was good and close. It’s too bad we couldn’t do the Sunday races because I’m sure we had very strong pace again, but we now move on to Hampton Downs tied for the points lead and I aim for more of the same.”
Liam Lawson said: “The big plus for the weekend was my first pole position in TRS, which came in wet-ish conditions, but we scored some good points for the championship too. I stuffed up my start, which was a shame as I know I had the pace to win. I had to overtake Artem early on after he passed me, which I did around the outside of the loop because there was good grip out there, and after that I was able to close in on Marcus. I tried the same move on him after the safety car, but it was quite noticeable that the inside line had gripped-up, so I didn’t have the same advantage, put two wheels in one of the wet patches and had to really fight to keep the car on the road. I think Sunday would have given us another podium at the very least, but now the focus shifts to Hampton.”
Artem Petrov said: “It’s been a very good weekend for me. I think the potential has been there since the start of the weekend in any kind of weather and it was great to get my first podium in TRS. After qualifying eighth, my start was amazing and I got up to second place by the end of the main straight. After Liam overtook me his pace was better, but I was right behind him and Marcus when they went side-by-side at the end. We couldn’t continue because of the weather on Sunday, so I’m looking forwards to the next races.”
Cameron Das said: “Fourth place was a really strong result given where I started. The pace in the dry practice was really quick and we did a lot of work to dial-in the set-up to my style, which meant I could be really quick when it worked. Unfortunately, Saturday qualifying was wet and the balance wasn’t quite there, so I wasn’t that comfortable and qualified ninth, but we made some changes for Race One and they were good. I started well and from there the strategy was just to find a comfortable rhythm and score some points. I think we’d have done even better on Sunday because the dry track would have suited me, but it’s OK that the races were cancelled because I know we’ll be strong at the next two tracks.”
Lucas Auer said: “In general this was a very difficult weekend. We’ve had a couple of issues and the team and I are pushing very hard together to look through everything and try and work out a solution. After the pole position at Highlands, we were expecting something similar here, so it’s disappointing. Fifth place is still points, but that’s not important in the bigger picture; the target is to find the solution to our issue and bounce back strong at Hampton Downs.”
Esteban Muth said: “My weekend started really well and I was pretty close to the pace in practice in the dry. Fifth in a wet qualifying session put me in a good position as well, but unfortunately my start was a catastrophe and I dropped back to 13th. From there, I’m pretty pleased to come back to ninth and set some good times. Actually I had a lot of confidence to be even better-placed on Sunday, but we had everything cancelled and there’s nothing we can do about it. I think this might help me because the races will be re-run ay two circuits where overtaking looks like it will be easier, so I’m looking forward to them.”
Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “It’s been an awesome team result here and it’s a huge tribute to everyone that’s been a part of our journey in the Toyota Racing Series that we’ve broken the all-time wins record, despite having not been in the series as long as some of the other teams. To do it with a top-five lockout was incredible and Marcus and Liam put on an amazing battle for the win. I’m actually as surprised as I am impressed that at just 16 and 18 years old, they have such respect for not only each other, but the boundaries of the track too, and in such tough conditions. I’m delighted that Artem’s scored his first podium because it was clear that, with his natural pace, it was simply a question of ‘when’? We felt we could continue that form into Sunday because we’ve generally been fastest here, whatever the weather, but the race officials decided to cancel the day on safety grounds and we just have to respect that and shift our focus to Hampton.”
Castrol Toyota Racing Series Drivers’ Championship after Rd 2/5*
1 Liam Lawson (NZ) – 113pts
2 Marcus Armstrong (NZ) – 113
3 Raoul Hyman (RSA) – 79
4 Lucas Auer (A) – 73
5 Brendon Leitch (NZ) – 72
6 Cameron Das (USA) – 66
7 Artem Petrov (RU) – 59
8 Esteban Muth (B) – 58