He's won in Formula 4 and Formula 3 in Germany and Asia but New Zealander Liam Lawson put his name firmly in the international spotlight over the weekend when he won two of the races and the first round of the Castrol Toyota Racing Series in style against a high quality field of international racers at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, NZ.
The first weekend of the 2019 series proved to be highly competitive, with the top 12 drivers in second qualifying covered by less than a second. Fifteen drivers took part and they will be joined at round two by Australian Jackson Walls who will make it 16. Three of the four teams who run cars in the series made it to the podium and two of the teams had winners. There was plenty of action, plenty of passing and some great racing from the quality field, which boasted champions and race winners from Formula 3 and Formula 4.
It was the manner of Lawson’s two wins in those circumstances that caught the eye. A dominant seven second win after a great start in the dry for the sixteen year old's debut win in the category, and a breathtaking performance in the wet by ten seconds - that included a hold-your-breath drive around the outside of one of the fastest corners on fellow Kiwi and Ferrari Academy driver Marcus Armstrong - were more than just impressive.
All three of the races eventually went to local New Zealand racers. Lawson surprised perhaps the entire paddock apart from himself and his close knit team with an utterly dominant win in the first race of the weekend and the championship. He muscled his way into the lead at the first corner past pole position sitter Raoul Hyman from the UK. Once ahead he never looked back and put in a series of four consecutive lap records half way through the 15 lap encounter to stamp his authority on the race and put a championship marker well and truly on the table.
The series' second race grid is formed from the finishing order of the first race and includes a reverse top six or reverse top eight starting order. For the second race on the Sunday morning in Cromwell it was a reverse top six and this made a front row of Belgian Esteban Muth and another New Zealander, Brendon Leitch - a circuit expert at the Highlands facility and the most experienced driver in the field in TRS with five campaigns behind him. Leitch it was who took the initial lead, but a red flag forced a restart and Muth held on for the remaining laps to take the win on the road. A five second penalty for a jumped start before the race stoppage, however, was enough to push him down to fourth and gift Leitch the win.
Austrian Lucas Auer - a veteran of four seasons in the DTM with Mercedes in the New Zealand championship to sharpen his single seater skills ahead of a full Japanese Super Formula campaign - had taken a very impressive pole position for the 20 lap feature encounter on the Sunday afternoon, but a huge crash in the morning's race left his M2 Competition mechanics with the major task of changing engine and gearbox on the Toyota FT-50 chassis before the race, a task they completed in around three hours.
The race started under the Safety Car, and when it finally did get underway properly after three laps under caution, Auer made a good getaway and looked odds-on for the win as Lawson and Armstrong battled it out and allowed him to steal a worthwhile lead. Lawson, however, had other ideas and once he had disposed of Armstrong set off after Auer and passed him too before putting the hammer down and repeating his Saturday trick of stringing together several laps that were comfortably faster than everyone behind him.
Once points for the three races had been calculated, Lawson left the first round with the series lead, with Armstrong just four points behind for as Kiwi 1-2. Raoul Hyman was an impressive third overall after a consistent weekend, with another New Zealander, Brendon Leitch, in fourth and Auer a little further behind in fifth.
The series moves to the super-fast Teretonga Park just outside of Invercargill for the second round of the championship next weekend.
2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series - Points after Round 1
1. Liam Lawson (New Zealand) - 82
2. Marcus Armstrong (New Zealand) - 78
3. Raoul Hyman (United Kingdom) - 69
4. Brendon Leitch (New Zealand) - 56
5. Lucas Auer (Austria) - 51
6. Petr Ptacek (Czech Republic) - 48
7. Esteban Muth (Belgium) - 44
8. Cameron Das (USA) - 42
9. Calan Williams (Australia) - 35
10. Artem Petrov (Russia) - 32
11. Kazuto Kotaka (Japan) - 28
12. Dev Gore (United States) - 22
13. Parker Locke (USA) - 20
14. Thomas Smith (Australia) - 19
15. Petru Florescu (Romania) - 15