M2 Competition wrapped up an unprecedented seventh Toyota Racing Series Teams’ Championship on Sunday thanks to a dominant double win for Liam Lawson at Pukekohe.
Liam’s pair of victories – which included the New Zealand Motor Cup, the country’s oldest prize in motor racing – also moved the local ace back into the lead of the Drivers’ points table with just one round remaining.
The 17-year-old Red Bull Junior kept his powder dry during practice, but struck hard on Saturday morning to snatch pole position from Igor Fraga – who came into the weekend heading the Drivers’ points – by just 0.025 seconds.
Ido Cohen and Yuki Tsunoda completed a dominant lock-out of the front two rows by M2 drivers with career-best performances of their own.
Igor grabbed the lead at the start, but was passed under braking by Liam at Turn Five and also slipped to third behind Yuki. Igor was eventually classified second with Yuki fourth.
Race Two’s partially-reversed grid brought fourth for Liam with Igor fifth and Yuki seventh – and managing an engine issue –, and set up a spicy contest for the main race, which began with Liam on pole for the third time this season, and again with Igor leading briefly into the fast Turn One right-hander.
The battle didn’t last long, however; Igor turned around by a rival at Turn Four and dropping from second to last; sparking an almighty fightback that brought him to eighth by the chequered flag.
All of this happened in Liam’s rear-view mirrors and he dominated to win for the fifth time in 2020 and the 10th time in his TRS career – a result that ties Marcus Armstrong at the top of M2’s all-time winners’ list in the series.
The result means Liam heads to the final round with an eight-point lead over Igor in the Drivers’ standings with 90 still up for grabs.
Yuki – having crossed the line fractionally too early at the end of Sunday qualifying to earn himself a final ‘push’ lap – started 16th, but put in the performance of the race to climb to fourth by the chequered flag with a number of spectacular ‘round-the-outside’ moves.
It was this result that secured a record sixth-consecutive Teams’ title – and the seventh in total – for M2 Competition, who are 175 points clear of their nearest rivals with only 170 available at Manfeild.
Seventh in Race One, Ido was unfortunate to run off the track early in Race Two while in a podium position and then fall victim to some aggressive driving that pushed him wide at several corners shortly afterwards. He finished eighth.
The Israeli added sixth in the NZ Motor Cup to cap off an event that brought him his highest weekend points total to date and moved him up to ninth in the Driver standings.
Rui Andrade avenged the disappointment of Hampton Downs, when he was eliminated late-on while on-course for his best career finish. The first Angolan to race in the TRS finished ninth in Race One and repeated that result on Sunday with a dogged defence of position.
His chance of a similar result in Race Three went away due to an engine issue, but he managed his situation cleverly and finished 15th.
Emilien Denner had showed excellent speed in testing and practice and equalled his best-ever qualifying performance with seventh on Saturday morning – which became sixth once penalties had been applied to other drivers.
After starting well, an early incident put the Frenchman him out of the race at Turn Four; the impact with the tyre wall – although minor – causing an injury to his wrist. After battling through the pain barrier in Sunday qualifying, he elected to miss both of the day’s races.
The season concludes this weekend at Manfeild with the annual New Zealand Grand Prix with five drivers – including Liam, Igor and Yuki – involved in the battle for the title.
Liam Lawson said: “I’m so happy with how this weekend’s turned out. To get the two wins and be back in the lead of the championship is the main thing, but it’s awesome to know my name’s going to go on the New Zealand Motor Cup alongside the legends that are on here like Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren; we missed this one last year so it’s very cool. I had a fantastic racecar all weekend; it did exactly what I wanted. It’s so unfortunate what happened to Igor in Race Three because we’ve both been flat-out all weekend. I’m happy to go into the last round leading the points, but Manfeild’s going to be real close.”
Igor Fraga said: “It’s been a really mixed weekend. The pace has been so close between myself and Liam in qualifying; just hundredths of a second, and pole position is usually decided by who gets the least traffic right at the end. It was very useful to get second place in Race One, even though the plan – once I’d got in front at the start – was to stay in front. Then in Race Three, I was concentrating on staying close so I could try to pass Liam at the end of the long straight, when I got hit from behind, spun around and had to recover whatever positions I could. Honestly it’s an achievement for me just to be so close to Liam in the championship, considering all the experience he has of these tracks compared to me. Manfeild is going to be closer still and I’m just going to focus on my weekend and try to come away as the champion.”
Yuki Tsunoda said: “I’m satisfied with some of the results, but I think it could have been even better. I had my best qualifying in the TRS for Race One, but I didn’t have the pace to pass my team-mate. Second was still a good result, but then I got a penalty for not slowing down enough on the formation lap when we came back to the grid, so I was put back to fourth. We swapped the left-side tyres for Race Two and the car went really well, but I had a loss of power and lost some positions. Race Three was good though. We didn’t capitalise in qualifying because of traffic and a miscommunication with my engineer, but it was nice to overtake a lot of cars and finish fourth here, because passing is hard at Pukekohe. If my engine is at 100 per cent at Manfeild and we can eliminate small mistakes, I’ll aim to win the races and see what happens in the championship.”
Ido Cohen said: “In general it was a very good weekend; starting with a great qualifying for Race One and fourth place in the race. The pace was good, but the number of safety cars made the race feel quite short. Race Two wasn’t so good and I started 10th after making a couple of mistakes. I got a penalty after Race One so I started and finished seventh in Race Two, but the feature race was really good and I started 10th and finished sixth on a track where passing is very hard. The weekend was much better than Hampton Downs and we showed we have the pace. If we put everything together for Manfeild, hopefully we can end the season on the podium.”
Rui Andrade said: “This has been the best weekend of the season performance-wise. We had quite a few issues in the testing, but we took a big step forwards on Friday and by qualifying the speed was good, even if the session didn’t go our way. In Race One I stayed out of trouble, gained some positions, and then ended up ninth after some other drivers had a penalty. Race Two was okay and I ran in a good position the whole race, but then in the feature race I had some wheelspin at the start and went onto the grass early on. The pace was quite good though and I could recover, but as I was pulling out to pass a car, I had an issue with the engine and didn’t get full power. I think we can start at Manfeild like we finished here, and end the season on a high.”
Emilien Denner said: “The weekend started quite well; very well in fact, because we were fast in practice and then had a good sixth place in qualifying. That was very good because I’ve struggled a bit in qualifying at the previous rounds. I started well, was up to fifth and was right behind the leaders. I decided I could push harder to try to gain some positions, but I just lost the rear after Turn One and then crashed in the chicane. I hurt my wrist and couldn’t’ do the Sunday races, but I’m looking forward to coming back stronger at Manfeild, so we’ll see how it goes there.”
Mark Pilcher, Team Principal, said: “It feels excellent to wrap up the Teams’ Championship here. Although we hoped to win it, we weren’t expecting to seal it a round early. This highlights the quality of all the people we have within the team and it’s also good to show that we can win a title with the new TRS car, which gives us a great starting point for the Formula Renault Eurocup season too. It’s been a huge team effort all season, but this weekend things went exceptionally well and we had a very fast car in every session. Liam was super-strong and so was Igor – the gaps in qualifying were tiny –which made it a huge pity for the championship fight that he got hit in Race Three. Yuki had the drive of his life in Race Three, Ido had good pace, Rui was very impressive and Emilien was fast before the crash, but thankfully his hand isn’t broken, so he should be okay for Manfeild.”