India’s Arjun Maini took his first win of the 2015 Toyota Racing Series in the first race of the weekend at Teretonga, chasing French driver Brandon Maisano into the fast first turn while beside them Santino Ferrucci and pole man Matteo Ferrer tangled and went off the track, forcing a safety car period and a restart.
Maini has fast become a series favourite and declared his win “fantastic” step up from the pair of second placings and a fourth at the opening round.
He closes in on the championship lead and the win maintains a clean sweep of wins so far for M2 Competition.
At the restart Maini was quickly out of the reach of Maisano, extending his lead to .78 of a second within a lap.
Third and first New Zealander at this point was James Munro of Christchurch, the 17 year old making a strong return after rolling his car in qualifying this morning.
Soon after, the safety car was back on track as British driver Sam MacLeod retired from seventh in a tangle with Stefan Riener at turn one. His misfortune brought Brendon Leitch up from eighth to seventh, the young local enjoying a charge up through the field to challenge James Munro in the Kiwi driver standings.
Once the race went back to green Maini extended his lead, controlling the race in a mature and capable display of skill. He had a gap of 1.150 seconds to Maisano by the chequered flag. Through to third, though, deposing Munro in what many said was the drive of the 15 lap race, was round one winner Lance Stroll, who was overtaking drivers around the outside in the fast first turn.
“A driver’s got to do what he has to do, I had to go for it and the car stayed on track so the risk was worth it,” he said afterward.
When he closed on Munro he grabbed third in a clean pass and set a new race lap record of 53.109 seconds in the process.
Stroll’s third gave M2 Competition a 1-2-3 finish and he retains a ten point lead over Maini going into the second day of round two. Invercargill’s Brendon Leitch has a double pole start on Sunday, backing his top performance in qualifying for the Spirit of a Nation feature race with sixth today – winner Maini having drawn a six in the partial reverse grid marble draw for tomorrow morning’s race.
“That was a great race, the competition was great fun. It’s good to step up to a win at this point and the team gave me a perfect car. I know now it’s really important to be consistent and keep scoring points,” he said afterward.
James Munro was fourth and top New Zealander.
Irishman Charlie Eastwood took his third top-five finish but was penalised ten seconds for a false start.