Despite a turbulent weekend, Marcus Armstrong ended on a high as he claimed victory during the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy race at Taupō. Struggling through mechanical woes, the Kiwi driver was able to bounce back from disappointment to keep his championship hopes within reach.
The Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park played host to the penultimate event of the Toyota Racing Series this weekend. Offering a high-speed 830m downhill straight, that heads into a tight and twisty sequence of corners, the 3.5km long track configuration serves up a thrilling challenge to the grid of racers.
Taking to the track ahead of the weekend’s racing, Marcus was on top once again, his strong pace netting him the fastest time in each of the four test and practice sessions. From there he was in perfect form to battle for pole position once qualifying got underway. Trading places for fastest times throughout the session, Marcus narrowly missed out on pole by a mere tenth to Lawson for Race 1, but was ready to take the fight at lights out.
With a lightning reaction off the line, Marcus immediately had the advantage on Lawson, the pair duelling in a thrilling first corner tussle. Pushing to the limit, Marcus held his nerve but wisely conceded and tucked right in behind as they made their first tour of the circuit. Struggling for grip throughout the race posed a tough challenge as he both fought to stay within reach of the leader and keep the car in front of the chasing pack. By Lap 6, Marcus was under pressure from Auer as they entered the sweeping nature of turn ten, with the benefit of slipstream his rival carried more momentum into the straight. Going side-by-side, Marcus held his line but was unable to hold off the better grip and speed of Auer. Crossing the line in 3rd place earned the Kiwi another podium to his tally and ensured his championship advantage.
Hard work and heartbreak
Lining up on the second row for the second race, Marcus was keen to build upon his earlier pace. He fired off the line in sensational style, to find himself alongside the pole sitter who had suffered wheel spin. Taking every opportunity handed to him, he sneaked two wheels onto the grass to take 2nd place from Lawson and began his charge to Auer ahead. Gaining on the leader and holding the pack behind, the Ferrari Driver Academy protégé was in prime place as the race ran through the opening laps. But agony suddenly struck on Lap 4, when the left front suspension mounting bolt broke under braking for turn 1, sending him flying off into the gravel. Not one to give up, he clawed his way back to the pits. Despite their best efforts of the team, and a stellar fastest lap once he rejoined, Marcus narrowly failed to meet the 75% race distance to be classified.
With hard work ahead of him for the reverse grid race, Marcus performed a masterclass in overtaking as he stormed through the field from the back of the pack. Picking up places, lap after lap, a thrilling charge earned him 8th place at the flag.
Top Step Triumph
Eager to reverse his fortune and with confidence in his abilities, the final race of the weekend was sure to be an exciting charge for the Kiwi. Lining himself up on the front row, he nailed his start to seal his lead by the first corner. Rounding the 3.5km long track, Marcus was in complete control for much of the 20 lap race. Despite the appearance of the safety car and a red flag period, keeping a cool head, he managed to maintain his lead and go on to claim the all important victory. Raising the trophy aloft, Marcus sealed a troublesome weekend with a healthy haul of points to keep the championship fight alive. In addition, strong run of results throughout his campaign, contributing to M2 Competition earning the constructor’s title with one event left to run.
Speaking of his comeback:
"Yesterday in no way, shape or form was I able to fight for the win, then today it was quite easy. I’m really happy to have won the race and to make up for failed suspension yesterday - we're back in the championship fight. I'm sure it’ll go down to the wire. We have to make up for what happened last year and take the title."
With just 5 points between them, both Marcus will go head-to-head with fellow Kiwi Liam Lawson when the title is decided at the 64th New Zealand Grand Prix next weekend.
With 262 points, Marcus Armstrong is 2nd in the championship as the Toyota Racing Series reaches its finale at Manfeild. In an all-out battle to the end, Marcus will give it everything he has in hopes of claiming the title.