Igor Fraga scored a sensational double win for M2 Competition at Hampton Downs to sweep into the lead of the Toyota Racing Series with just two rounds remaining.
The 21-year-old claimed his maiden series win in Saturday’s opening race thanks to a stunning start from third on the grid that put him into an unchallenged lead for the rest of the race on the 2.8km North Island circuit.
The most dramatic qualifying session in recent TRS history followed on Sunday morning as Igor and team-mate Liam Lawson swapped pole position seven times in the final few minutes; the Brazilian eventually emerging fastest by just two hundredths of a second.
He and Liam pulled clear in the battle for the final race of the weekend; the 25-lap Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy race went side-by-side for several corners following an early-race safety-car restart in an intense battle.
The battle ended when Liam’s car suffered a turbo issue and slowed suddenly; the 2019 champion being hit up the rear by a rival seconds later.
The New Zealander’s first retirement of the year left the Red Bull Junior second in the Championship, 17 points shy of his team-mate, who went on to record his second win of the weekend and M2’s seventh from nine races in 2020.
Liam had produced the outstanding performance of the opening race. Dropping from second to fifth off the line following a post-qualifying clutch change – he overtook decisively to finish second.
He did likewise in Race Two, having started fifth on the partially-reversed grid, and making the move of the weekend for second place around the outside of Turn 1 after a mid-race safety-car restart, despite running on older tyres than his rival.
Igor, meanwhile, came home fourth, having started sixth.
Liam’s fellow Red Bull Junior, Yuki Tsunoda, was another to produce some excellent overtaking moves.
Starting ninth in Race One, he climbed to seventh by the finish, and made further progress from seventh to third in Race Two, only to be given a harsh 30-second time penalty for side-by-side contact with a rival at the start, and drop to 16th.
He finished the weekend on a high note with third place, which was his third podium of the season and kept him in the title hunt.
Rui Andrade scored his best TRS result with 13th in the opener, and then matched it in Race Two in what was a strong race performance.
The first Angolan to race in the series had worked with his team to fine-tune his set-up and gain speed as the weekend went on.
He had climbed into the top 10 in Race Three before a chain reaction during a late-race restart turned him around and left his car pincered at 90 degrees to the track and unable to move; an incident that forced the race’s early declaration.
It was unfortunately team-mate Ido Cohen whose car Rui’s was intertwined with; the Israeli racer unsighted as the pack scattered trying to avoid a pair of vehicles
Ido had earlier had an unlucky start to Race Two when first-corner contact caused damage to his front wing, which he lost a lap replacing in the pits early on. Eleventh in Race One was his best result of the weekend.
Teretonga race-winner Emilien Denner was one of the unluckiest drivers in the field. An innocent victim on Saturday, he was knocked out of Race One on the opening lap when a separate two-car incident behind him spilled over and damaged his car.
That forced a back-of-the-grid start in Race Two, and his Trophy race ended early with an engine issue, nullifying the effect of a strong start that had put him inside the top 10.
The Toyota Racing Series resumes this weekend with the penultimate event of the season and its first visit to Pukekohe.
Igor Fraga said: “I feel amazing; not only to get my first win, and then to double-up, but to have the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy and know that my name is going to be added to the list of legends that has won it in the past. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned about the car into this weekend and just focused on getting everything hooked up. I was super-focused on qualifying and tried to improve on every single run, which I managed, and in Race One I made one of the best starts of my life, which just turned the weekend from a good one to an incredible one. I’m leading the championship now, but I don’t plan to do anything differently going forwards. I just want to keep this momentum going.”
Liam Lawson said: “It’s a tough situation where you have everything under control to bag big points and then something outside of your control goes wrong and you lose the championship lead, but the pressure’s on Igor now of being the man everyone’s chasing. The pace we had this weekend was very good and it was only me not quite nailing my last lap in first qualifying and then getting a bit unlucky in traffic on Sunday that cost me two poles. I burnt the clutch out on Thursday during the practice-start session so had a new one in for the races, and I started badly twice, so I need to get more practice with it for Pukekohe. I was pretty pleased with some of the passing moves though; especially the one for second in Race Two on [Oliver] Rasmussen, so the target for Pukekohe is to just keep doing what we’re doing and win more races.”
Yuki Tsunoda said: “The weekend just kept building and building towards a strong finish and we improved the car across Races One, two and three. Igor and Liam were very fast this weekend, so my aim became driving my own races, focusing on not making mistakes and trying to pass the cars in front of me. It’s a shame about the penalty in Race Two because the team deserved the podium finish. Every circuit in TRS is new to me, and some are very challenging, like this one. I’m sure we can have a good weekend at Pukekohe.”
Emilien Denner said: “After the highs of winning at Teretonga, this one was much tougher. Hampton Downs is a challenging circuit to learn, so practice went quite well and I was sixth in one of the sessions, and qualifying was about as we expected. Race One was over before it began when I was hit from behind, and that meant I had to start from the back of Race Two as well. I made a great start to Race Three, passing two cars, but I had an engine issue so had to stop. Four of the guys in front retired later on, so I could have been fifth or sixth, which would have been a good reward for the job my guys did this weekend, because we found a lot of speed in Race Two and had some great potential to finish Sunday on a high. We’ll hope for better at Pukekohe.”
Rui Andrade said: “Pace-wise, I’m pleased. We did a lot more background work than for the previous rounds, and it really worked, so in qualifying, it was just a case of correcting small mistakes here and there. I put it together in Q2 and was happy with my lap, but eight tenths covered first to 17th so it was very close. I started well in Race Two, but it was tough to keep up with the guys who had used fresher tyres towards the end. I saved my fresh tyres for Race Three and was into the top 10 and on course for my best result when I was hit from behind on a safety-car restart and out of the race. The performance gives me plenty of confidence that we can continue this good progress at Pukekohe.”
Ido Cohen said: “It wasn’t my best weekend, especially after we’d gone so well at Teretonga. In Race One I started 15th and finished 11th and then I lost my front wing at the start of Race Two so had to pit to change it and lost a lap. I was able to unlap myself behind the safety car, and after that I overtook two cars, which was good. Then in Race Three I got up from 16th to 11th with 10 laps to go, but then there was a big crash in front of me at the safety-car restart and I couldn’t avoid it. We know what we need to do for next weekend to come back much stronger.”
Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “On the one hand it’s fantastic to see Igor win twice and to just nail the round, but he and Liam were neck-and-neck all weekend and it would have been nice to see them both rewarded equally for their pace. We’ve suffered some bad luck too, which is frustrating. We had a couple of technical issues across some of our cars, drivers affected by incidents in which they were innocent bystanders, and a harsh penalty for Yuki for what I saw as a 50/50 racing incident. Hampton Downs is such a tricky circuit to get right, so the job Rui’s done this weekend has been very good; just outside the top 10 in every session and he deserved the top-10 finish in Race Three before the incident at the restart happened, in which he was blameless. Emilien has made a huge step forwards since the start of the season, both in pace and consistency, and this weekend he showed great maturity, despite having no luck at all. We’ve extended our lead in the Drivers’ and Teams’ championships and this all helps our run-in and our preparations for the Formula Renault season in Europe.”