M2 Competition became Toyota Racing Series Teams’ Champions for a record-breaking fifth straight season as four of their drivers shared the wins at Taupo.
While Marcus Armstrong won the showpiece Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy to keep the battle for the Drivers’ title finely poised, his chief rival Liam Lawson, Lucas Auer and Esteban Muth were also victorious for the team.
Having arrived at Taupo as the championship leader, Marcus finished third in Saturday’s opener, but suffered terrible luck when a broken suspension rocker put him out of Race Two while lying third.
That result put him at the back of the grid of Sunday’s reversed-grid race, but the Ferrari Driver Academy member recovered well to eighth and made the most of a front-row spot for the Trophy race to snatch the lead immediately and streak to his fourth win of the year.
Liam took full advantage of Marcus’s suspension problem to turn a 34-point deficit in the Drivers’s Championship into a five-point advantage with 90 available at this weekend’s season finale.
The 16-year-old rookie did this by finishing on the podium in each of the four races and scoring more points than anybody else; 111 in total.
After taking a double-pole position, he dominated the opener and added second place later on. He finished third twice on Sunday; his Race Four result coming after a decisive late pass on team-mate Esteban.
Having overtaken Marcus for the runner-up spot in Race One, Lucas Auer dominated Saturday evening’s encounter after getting the jump as the lights went out.
His first single-seater victory for nearly five years was followed by his second pole position of the season the next morning. He completed his weekend with seventh and second on Sunday to climb to fourth in the Drivers’ points.
Esteban scored a milestone victory in Race Three as he became the first Belgian to win in the TRS.
The protégé of Le Mans 24 Hours winner Andre Lotterer resisted intense race-long pressure to claim the spoils just hours after qualifying a career-best third for the finale, in which he finished fourth.
He was eighth and sixth on Saturday and is now the only driver that can deny Liam the Rookie of the Year title, as well as maintaining a shot at the overall crown.
Having claimed his own first victory at Hampton Downs last time out, Artem Petrov was a model of consistency at Taupo.
He finished fourth in both of Saturday’s races and then produced an identical result in Sunday’s opener.
Hopeful of a podium in the Trophy race, the Russian’s chances were dealt a huge blow when he suffered front-wing damage at the first corner. Great work from the M2 crew in the pits got him back on-track, but contact from another rival put him out with three laps left.
Cameron Das made an excellent start to the weekend by qualifying a career-best fifth for the opening race and then finishing sixth.
Unfortunately, the American was penalised 30 seconds for side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel contact with a rival and dropped to 15th – which was where he started the next race.
Some masterful overtaking moves brought him to 11th in Race Two and fifth in Race Three. He claimed eighth in the finale.
The Toyota Racing Series concludes this weekend at Manfeild with the season’s biggest event; the New Zealand Grand Prix and Liam, Marcus, Lucas and Esteban all in with a chance of becoming 2019 Champion.
Marcus Armstrong said: “It’s been a mixed weekend, but it’s ended very well with victory in the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy and it’s great to win that for a second time and to be part of the championship-winning team again. I was really fast in practice quite easily and for reasons we don’t understand, we just couldn’t replicate that speed until the final two races, which were very good. Now we look ahead to Manfeild where the aim will be to win the Drivers’ title.”
Liam Lawson said: “Two poles, a win and four podiums; that’s a really good weekend. Practice was a bit of a struggle, but we found the speed for qualifying and it was great to be on pole in the dry. In Race One I made a good start and controlled things, but in Races Two and Four I found it hard to pass, especially when you’re chasing another M2 car, because they’re generally strong in the same areas as you. Generally, I chose not to gamble on any risky moves and preserve the points, but I did make a good move for second in Race Four and it’s nice to come away leading the championship ahead of the final round.”
Lucas Auer said: “This was really where our 2019 season started and it’s been what we’ve been waiting for since Highlands; a weekend where the car is completely sorted and we didn’t have one single issue to sort. You can see that from a weekend like this, the results are a win, a pole and two second places, which is exactly the kind of event I was aiming for. I’m going to Manfeild now aiming to continue this form and finish in the top three of the championship. You never know; it could be even higher.”
Esteban Muth said: “I’m so happy to get my first win this weekend after coming close a couple of other times already. After the performance in free practice, I was expecting a good weekend, but there was a small issue in first qualifying and I made a mistake in the next session at the first corner. I didn’t make a good start in Race One, but eighth and then sixth helped me to get the reversed-grid pole for Race Three. It was really tough with Brendon Leitch behind me the whole time, but I could hold him off and win. The last race was similar with Liam, but I missed the safety-car restart and he got me. I can still win the championship at Manfeild, so I’ll push for everything I can.”
Artem Petrov said: “This has been my most consistent weekend yet in the races, and I’m proud to be a part of M2’s Teams’ Championship title. To finish fourth in three different races is maybe a little frustrating because you are always aiming to be on the podium, but every time I finished higher than I started and made some very good progress on the first lap each time, so that’s good for me. The fourth race was not so good because I had some damage to my wing and I lost a lap having it replaced, but the pace was still good and I think Manfeild can be even better.”
Cameron Das said: “It’s been another up-and-down weekend, but with plenty of positives to take away. We did well in practice, I made a tonne of good overtakes, and the race pace was right up there with the best all weekend, but I think the penalty I was given for contact in Race One was harsh and it set me back for the rest of the weekend. The big challenge now is to unlock the speed in qualifying so I’m not back in the midfield where chaos is always just around the corner. As a team we’re well-prepared for Manfeild and we go there to shoot for the win in the New Zealand Grand Prix.”Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “Naturally I’m delighted that we’ve secured the Teams’ Championship for a fifth straight season. The quality at the front of the field seems to go up every year in TRS, so this one is particularly satisfying and every member of this team should be very proud of themselves. There were so many strong performances from our drivers this weekend; from the mental strength it would have taken for Marcus to bounce back from his issue on Saturday, through to the maturity Liam showed today in picking the perfect moment to make his passes, and the way Lucas and Esteban soaked up immense pressure to take their victories. Now we can focus on the GP next weekend as we head to Manfeild with four of our drivers in with a chance of the title.”