Armstrong holds his own till the end
Reaching the climax of one of the most exciting seasons in recent history, Manfeild played host to the final round of Toyota Racing Series this weekend, in which Marcus Armstrong fought until the very end. In a battle that came down to the final chequered flag, Marcus narrowly missed out on the title, but showcased his supreme skill once again.
In a battle of the Kiwis, the title fight came down to the wire as Marcus readied himself for one final furore. Despite suffering mechanical disappointments last weekend, the 18-year-old was well poised to take every opportunity heading into the final 3 races at the Circuit Chris Amon.
Trading fastest times with his rival Lawson throughout the fifteen minute qualifying session, Marcus lined up on the front row, a tiny hairsbreadth from sealing pole position. Bettering the rest of the field, the young driver was confident he could claim the lead for himself when the time came for lights out.
A winning start
Making good on his ambitions once again, Marcus claimed a sensational start, propelling into the lead in the opening race on Saturday. Powering into the first corner, his advantage had reached three car lengths to the good. As the race settled in, Marcus was in his element, proving himself against the field of young racers. Holding off any challenge that Lawson tried, pulling a sizeable gap of over a second as the race reached the halfway point. When drama struck in lap 11, which brought out a safety car, Marcus’ calm and focussed attitude ensured he nailed the restart and held his lead to the end. Starting the weekend on a high, his determination saw him bring the points gap to Lawson down to just one point. Earning another impressive trophy for his efforts, Marcus raised the Dan Higgins Trophy atop of the podium.
Speaking on his victory:
"To be honest, there was a little bit of a question mark over our qualifying speed and what happened. But, I don’t give up and it’s going to go down to the very end I’m sure. Tomorrow is going to be a big day."
Thrills and Spills
With the championship wide open, the crowd’s appetite was whetted for a thrilling final day of track action on Sunday. Marcus launched from 8th on the grid eager to get the better of Lawson.
With the better getaway, he soon directed his car to make the most of any gap in the field, but taking to the outside he had his work cut out. Going wheel-to-wheel through the opening laps, he found himself boxed in by Calan Williams, the pair battling for position. Fired up to take his chances, Marcus put two wheels on the grass to find his way by Williams and make chase on Lawson. In a thrilling 15 lap race, the title rivals duelled in the pack, to finish fifth and sixth respectively. But in a heart-wrenching twist, Marcus was handed a post-race penalty, having been deemed to not left enough room when making his move on Williams. With 5 seconds added to his race finish, he was dropped from sixth to ninth, extending Lawson’s lead back to three points.
A tricky qualifying session saw Marcus starting from 3rd on the grid for the New Zealand Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon. Despite being on the back foot, Marcus had the determination and drive to fight it out till the very last lap.
The New Zealand Grand Prix set the scene for one final furore, with the two title contenders going wheel-to-wheel throughout the race, which saw a barrage of safety cars and red flags. With pace in a different class to the rest of the field, the pair locked into a thrilling fight at the front of the pack. When the restart came following a red flag period, Marcus kept himself in the game, hooking into the back of his rival, until a 6-car pile up called his charge short. Battling through at the second restart, Marcus had the advantage on Lawson, narrowly forcing him wide onto the grass. This minor misjudgment found Marcus handed a 5 second penalty from the stewards, which dramatically dashed his championship hopes in the final race of the season.
Despite his misfortune, the Ferrari Driver Academy protégé showcased formidable form throughout the championship, tackling hardship and powering to dominant victories. Beginning what’s set to be an exciting year for the young Kiwi and proving his place as one of the most promising rising talents.
Recapping on his defeat, Marcus looks ahead to the next time he’s out on track:
“It’s been tough end to the championship, of course I have congratulate Liam, he has been great to battle against throughout. I’m disappointed to end it this way, but it’s been a season of ups and downs. The team have done a great job and it’s always great to be racing at home. Now, it’s back to Europe and I can’t wait to get back out on track. It’s gonna be a great season, I’m sure”
With 5 victories and 346 points to his name, Marcus Armstrong finished second in the championship standings. Already looking to the future, the spirited racer next hits the track for the inaugural round of the new Formula 3 Championship in Barcelona in May.