M2 Competition completed a sensational clean sweep of the Toyota Racing Series at Hampton Downs while Marcus Armstrong stole a decisive march in the title battle with victory in the New Zealand Motor Cup.
Marcus, 18, headed every test, practice and qualifying session at the spectacular 1.7-mile circuit on New Zealand’s North Island and collected a dominant double victory.
This, added to 10th and fourth places in the two reversed-grid races, enabled the Ferrari Driver Academy member to open up a 34-point series lead as the TRS move just beyond its halfway point.
In etching his name alongside those of Bruce McLaren, Sir Jack Brabham and Graham Hill on the NZ Motor Cup roll of honour, Marcus secured his eighth TRS victory for M2; a team record.
Liam Lawson, who was equal on points with Marcus at the top of the championship on Friday morning, produced a superb and gutsy performance to win Race Three; passing team-mate Esteban Muth for his third win of the season on the final lap.
He had finished third in the Saturday race and was on-course for second on Friday when contact at a late-race restart damaged his car and dropped him to seventh. Contact early in Race Four ended his hopes of adding to his five podiums so far in 2019.
Artem Petrov claimed his maiden TRS victory in Friday’s opening encounter, which was the rescheduled second race from Teretonga the previous weekend. A controversial finish caused him to have to wait over three hours for confirmation of his breakthrough success.
Unnecessary contact from behind put Artem out of Saturday’s race and caused him to start Race Three from 15th place, but a sterling recovery brought him to seventh by the chequered flag.
He finished the weekend with second place in the main race after a career-best fourth place in qualifying and was the second highest-scoring driver of the weekend.
After delivering times on the fringes of the top 10 in practice and ending Race One in the wall after running over debris and picking up an immediate puncture, Esteban Muth made superb gains across the weekend.
A pair of sixth-place finishes came after strong recovery drives while the Belgian secured a maiden podium finish with second place in Race Three.
Cameron Das scored his first TRS podium with third place in the finale as he climbed from a career-best sixth on the grid.
The American had led the Friday race convincingly, soaking up immense pressure during two red-flag and three safety-car periods, but suffered race-ending contact after a minor error at the final restart.
He bounced back with seventh and fifth before his third place in the finale made M2 the first team in TRS history to see all six of its drivers on the podium at the same event.
Lucas Auer – pace restored by a chassis change ahead of free practice – finished third in Race Two to record his second rostrum finish of 2019.
The Austrian was highly unfortunate to be spun out of the lead of Race One and to then suffer a throttle-sensor issue that put him out of second place in the NZ Motor Cup.
Marcus Armstrong said: “It’s been a very good weekend and we’ve rounded it off in the best way possible. We had an advantage in the first practice session and maintained it right the way through all the qualifying sessions and races, which is very tough to do in any series. It shows that we’re heading in the right direction now for the rest of the year. It’s good to have the championship lead and nice to win the New Zealand Motor Cup, which is a prize that some of the biggest names in motorsport have won. I was very close to winning it last year, but just missed out, so it’s great to get that box ticked.”
Liam Lawson said: “We’ve worked really hard to get onto the pace this weekend after having a difficult time in practice, and, together with my engineer Marc, we made it. We had one tyre a little low on pressure in first qualifying and that definitely cost me, but Sunday qualifying was much better and I think I could have had pole if I hadn’t stuffed up the best lap. I was really happy with the pace in Race Three and I was able to pass Esteban late to win, and in Race Four I had great pace again. I needed to pass Lucas early, went to the outside of Turn One and we touched and that was it. Now on to Taupo where I’ll try and take back every point I can from Marcus and continue the title fight.”
Artem Petrov said: “It’s great to get my first win and it’s been a very strong weekend because I was the second-best points-scorer and that’s helped me move up one spot in the championship. Honestly, I was pretty lucky to win, but I was even more unlucky to be taken out in Race Two; he [Petr Ptacek] came from so far back, it was impossible to know he was going to try something. The recovery from the back of the grid in Race Three to seventh was good and in the final race I had a great result with second. I didn’t put my fastest sectors together in second qualifying because I wasn’t so comfortable with the car, but the set-up was perfect for the race. This gives me a lot of confidence heading to Taupo this weekend.”
Esteban Muth said: “I’ve had a lot of emotions over the weekend, but to get my first podium is something to be proud of. We were a long way off the pace in practice, but we managed to pull the gap back quite a lot. I qualified seventh for Race Two and finished sixth, which put me on pole for the reversed-grid race. I pulled out a big gap early, but unfortunately Liam was just faster than me and passed me on the last lap. I was disappointed with final qualifying as I didn’t judge the peak of the tyres well, and I lost three places at the start, despite my getaway being quite good. I finished fifth, which is good points for the championship and the aim for Taupo is to climb even higher.”
Cameron Das said: “It’s fantastic to stand on the podium for the first time, and in a race as prestigious as the New Zealand Motor Cup too. It’s a great way to end a weekend that was pretty up and down. I was leading the first race, made a mistake at the final safety-car restart and that was that, but the learning I took from that definitely helped me to push on for the rest of the weekend. I’m still not quite there with qualifying pace, but the race speed was very close to Marcus across the spectrum, so while I have some areas still to work on, I’m happy with some of the positives to come from the weekend. I plan to use this momentum to end the season on a high.”
Lucas Auer said: “It’s been a mixed weekend. On the positive side, we changed chassis after the Thursday test, and while this meant we had to start from scratch with the set-up, it’s eliminated a problem we’d had since the start of the season. We had some technical issues in Friday practice, and lost second place in the final race when the throttle broke, which was disappointing after I’d started second too. The biggest disappointment was the rescheduled Teretonga race. I got into the lead at the first corner and then the Japanese driver [Kotaka] spun me and got a penalty for it. The Races Two and three were okay with fourth and third, and we’re on the right track with the speed, at least.”Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “Overall it’s been another strong weekend as we’ve won every race and become the first team to get all six drivers on the podium in one event in TRS, which is another nice milestone to reach. Marcus was fast here the past two years and he was just in the zone from the first lap of Thursday testing. Whatever anybody else did, he seemed to be able to extract that bit more pace whenever it was needed, and that paid off. Liam produced a very gutsy drive to win Race Three and I’m delighted to see Artem get his first win too. Both Esteban and Cameron got their first TRS podiums and this is incredibly pleasing too. I feel very sorry for Lucas because he clearly had the speed to challenge for every race win, but after being spun out by another driver at the start of Race One, and then having a technical problem in the last race, it just didn’t go his way.”