Liam Lawson dominated Saturday’s first race at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo to narrow the gap to Marcus Armstrong in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series title race to just 26 points.
Lawson was never troubled after sitting it out into turn one with a fast starting Armstrong, holding a tight defensive line around the first corner and forcing Armstrong to concede. He quickly established a lead, was the fastest in the field and made a perfect restart late in the race after a spin by Parker Locke brought out the safety car.
“I knew the start was going to be difficult,” said Lawson afterwards. “We both hit it on the start and both got wheel spin and it was pretty even into turn one.
“During the race there was hardly any grip and for the first couple of laps I kept locking wheels and had to keep shifting the brake bias back to help it stop. They were pressuring me at the start and once I sorted the braking, the car was really good.
“The safety car at the end made it interesting. The team told me over the radio a car had stopped out there, and I was hoping there wasn’t going to be one and was hoping the race would stay green.”
The start was clean but the tight nature of the first corner allows plenty of opportunity to pass around the outside and local racer Brendon Leitch made the most of the opportunity to make up a couple of places. Better still was impressive young Aussie Jackson Walls, who jumped up to seventh from 11th on the grid.
At the end of the first lap it was Lawson with a car length or so from Armstrong, Auer, Artem Petrov, Raoul Hyman, Kazuto Kotaka, Walls, Leitch, Cameron Das and Calan Williams. Trying hard for the first couple of laps, Lawson made a couple of small mistakes and locked up, which allowed Armstrong to stay in touch. Once he settled down, Lawson clearly had more pace than those behind and within three laps had a comfortable gap on his rivals.
As the race developed, Lawson retained control but Armstrong was falling back into the clutches of a flying Lucas Auer, who had Artem Petrov chasing after him as well. Behind them Walls defending impressively in seventh heading a fantastic six-way fight for the minor paces in the top ten.
Auer’s pressure on Armstrong paid off on lap six when he got a great exit from the circuit’s challenging turn ten sweeper that leads on the back straight. He carried more momentum into the straight and was alongside the New Zealander as they entered the braking zone. He held his nerve around the outside to complete a very challenging and impressive pass on the Kiwi, held it all together through the corner and emerged in front. That exchange had also allowed Petrov to gain ground and he immediately started to pile the pressure on Armstrong too.
Further back Walls was doing a remarkable job in his defence of seventh, showing great maturity in only his sixth TRS race.
At half way, Lawson was 3.1 seconds up on Auer with Armstrong a further second back. Petrov was next, then Hyman before a gap of three seconds to Kotaka, who was five up on the Walls, Leitch, Das, Williams, Muth, and Ptacek battle – with that pack covered by just over a second. On lap 11 Das made an effort on Leitch at Turn 11, lost the back end and sent Brendon into a spin. Out if the battle for seventh, he rejoined in 14th. Das was given a 30 second time penalty for the move after the race.
At this stage Lawson really had the hammer down, lapping consistently the fastest for a number of laps and taking three or four tenths per lap out of the drivers immediately behind him. His hard work was undone, however, when Parker Locke – after by far his most impressive race so far in the series, spun into the gravel at the final chicane from 11th place.
That brought out the safety car and as they resumed with two to go Lawson made no mistakes and timed his restart to perfection, gaining a couple of car lengths over Auer.
The midfield battle intensified over the last couple of laps, but at the front Lawson had done enough and crossed the line for his fourth win in the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series. Auer was an impressive second after his great move on Armstrong who held off Petrov for the final place on the podium with a car he felt had lost its balance from Thursday and Friday practice. Petrov was a solid fourth with Raoul Hyman rounding out the top five.
2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series – Race 1 Result, Round 4 Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo
1. Liam Lawson (New Zealand)
2. Lucas Auer (Austria)
3. Marcus Armstrong (New Zealand)
4. Artem Petrov (Russia)
5. Raoul Hyman (United Kingdom)
6. Jackson Walls (Australia)
7. Esteban Muth (Belgium)
8. Calan Williams (Australia)
9. Kazuto Kotaka (Japan)
10.Petru Florescu (Romania)
11. Thomas Smith (Australia)
12. Dev Gore (United States)
13. Brendon Leitch (New Zealand)
14. Petr Ptacek (Czech Republic)
15. Cameron Das (United States)
16. Parker Locke (USA)