The championship and the Grand Prix: Lance Stroll has backed up his victory in the 2015 Toyota Racing Series with a hard-fought win in the 60th New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild near Palmerston North.
Stroll, racing in New Zealand with M2 Competition, is a protégé of the Ferrari Driver Academy and was this week confirmed to contest the 2015 FIA European Formula Three Championship with Italian team Prema.
Stroll won the first feature race of the series, the Lady Wigram Trophy, at the opening round in January, and led the points battle through all five rounds. He took the championship title in Sunday morning’s 15 lap race and backed that with the Grand Prix win in the afternoon as pole man Arjun Maini went off the track in the early running. British driver Sam MacLeod was second in the Grand Prix, capping a five week campaign of race wins and pole positions that saw him constantly improving as he became accustomed to the handling and performance of his car. MacLeod won the prestigious NZ Motor Cup, New Zealand’s oldest motor racing trophy, at the series mid-point.
Stroll’s TRS and Prema team-mate Brandon Maisano was third in the Grand Prix, amassing enough points to make sure of second place in the championship.
There was bitter disappointment for Maini, who finished the morning race two laps down on the field then saw pole evaporate in the feature with a tangle that tore the front wing off his car.
Maini is regarded as one of the ‘finds’ of the series and had won the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy at the penultimate round.
His misfortune in both races of the Grand Prix Sunday brought a delighted Santino Ferrucci to a deserved third overall in the championship. Ferrucci won the morning race and was fifth in the 35-lap Grand Prix.
After the race, Stroll said he had concentrated throughout the championship on being consistent in qualifying and races and focussed on banking points rather than chasing outright wins as the five week, sixeen race series progressed.
“I knew in this morning’s race that when Arjun went off all I had to do was finish in front of [team-mate] Brandon to win the championship. I knew third was good enough,” he said afterward.
Then adding the Grand Prix to the championship win was “amazing”.
“Once the title was won I went into the longer Grand Prix just looking to make a great finish and stay out of trouble. When I saw Arjun and Brandon tangle I was through the mess and making sure of a lead, “ he said.
From the start, the Grand Prix quickly developed into a three-way race between Stroll and his two M2 Competition Motorsport team-mates, Maini and Maisano. The latter pair tangled as Maisano pushed for the lead. Maisano’s fronts tyre dislodged Maini's front wing and both left the track.
That allowed Stroll to dive through from third to lead the Grand Prix.
Behind him – and chasing the Canadian in a determined charge – was Irish driver Charlie Eastwood. Maisano had recovered to be third, Maini pitted to replaced his front wing and was out of contention.
At the chequered flag Stroll’s winning margin over Eastwood was 1.138 seconds, Maisano making a last-gasp push on Eastwood and the two cars crossing the line just .101 seconds apart.
"I knew they were going to fight and when they touched I went through. I said to myself, 'you've been in this position before, stay focussed and just bring it home'."
All four New Zealand drivers finished. Damon Leitch was tenth, Jamie Conroy 12th, James Munro 15th and Brendon Leitch 16th. Damon Leitch was te bets of the New Zealanders in the championship, finishing seventh with 530 points.
Stroll’s father Lawrence, on hand to see his son take the double win, said the five week championship was a “perfect” preparation for the coming year in Europe, where Lance Stroll has been confirmed to race with Prema in the fiercely competitive FIA European Formula 3 Championship.
“It couldn’t be better, winning the championship and the Grand Prix on the same day. All-out perfection. The competition level has been fantastic from beginning to end, and my hat is off to the organisers as they’ve done a fantastic job.”
Lance Stroll is only the second international driver to take the TRS title, the first to take the Grand Prix/TRS double victory. He is the first international to have won the Grand Prix in its time at Manfeild. At the series prixegiving on Sunday evening he donated all his winning prizemoney to the New Zealand youth cancer charity CanTeen.
Stroll’s M2 and Prema team-mate Maisano set fastest lap of the Grand Prix (1:02.845) and leaves with a new race lap record for TRS at Manfeild: a 1:02.653 set in Saturday’s race.
Race one, Saturday
Brandon Maisano took a flag to flag victory in the first race of the New Zealand Grand Prix weekend, winning the Dan Higgins Trophy despite gearshifting worries late in the race.
Racing in a strong easterly wind that slowed the cars considerably on the front straight, Maisano held off a determined challenge from Arjun Maini, who harried the Frenchman through the 20-lap race and closed to within 1.1 seconds when Maisano’s gearshift woes slowed him in the final five laps.
Behind them, British driver Sam MacLeod had a strong run in the opening laps then a lonely drive to third overall, well clear of the chasing pack but not able to close in on Maini for any length of time.
Maisano said afterward he was pleased to take the win after a strong performance at the Taupo round that was marred by a spectacular crash in the feature race.
Maisano set a new category lap record for Manfeild, a 1:02.653 in lap seven while locked in battle with Maini.
Race two, Sunday
With a race in hand, Canadian teenager Lance Stroll won the 2015 Toyota Racing Series. Third place in the first race of day two at Manfeild was enough to hand Stroll an unassailable points advantage. The podium finish gave him 831 points, well clear of team-mate Brandon Maisano in second place on 748 and Arjun Maini third overall on 722.
The race was won in dominant form by young American Santino Ferrucci, with Sam MacLeod second. Ferrucci controlled the race through two safety car periods, the second of which took championship hopeful Arjun Maini out of contention. The talented young Indian driver, rated by many the ‘find’ of the series, tangled with New Zealand driver James Munro at the long sweeping right hander onto the start finish straight. Munro went into the tyre wall, Maini pitted with damaged suspension, rejoining two laps down and finishing 19th.
Toyota Racing Series 2015
Round 1 14 -18 Jan 2015 Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna, Christchurch, Lady Wigram Trophy won by Lance Stroll
Round 2 22 - 25 Jan 2015 Teretonga Park, Invercargill, Spirit of a Nation won by Brendon Leitch
Round 3 29 Jan - 01 Feb 2015 Hampton Downs, New Zealand Motor Cup won by Sam MacLeod
Round 4 05 – 08 Feb 2015 Taupo Motorsport Park, Taupo, Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy won by Arjun Maini
Round 5 12 - 15 Feb 2015 Manfeild, Feilding, New Zealand Grand Prix won by Lance Stroll