Richard Verschoor’s win in the first race of the Grand Prix weekend in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series at Manfeild has closed up the championship fight with just two races, including the New Zealand Grand, remaining.
With series leader Marcus Armstrong (Christchurch) finishing fifth there is now only 34 points between the top three drivers.
Armstrong had qualified seventh, but a good start saw him up to fourth, only to be overtaken by Invercargill’s Brendon Leitch on the last corner of the first lap.
Verschoor from the Netherlands was untroubled, holding the lead from pole position, followed by Robert Shwartzman (Russia).
“The car was strong. I need another good start in the Grand Prix,” said Verschoor.
Having closed the points gap to Armstrong from 60 to 34, Verschoor admits he has not given up on the championship. He will start the Grand Prix from pole position after dominating both qualifying sessions earlier yesterday.
Shwartzman, who started fourth, narrowly avoided colliding with Charles Milesi at the start, the French 16 year old, completely missing the start from second on the grid.
“It was very close,” said Shwartzman. “I tried to catch Richard for a while, but then decided not to take any risks.”
Shwartzman will go into the final two races only 15 points behind Armstrong, with Verschoor another 19 further back.
Clement Novalak finished third, while Leitch came home fourth after starting eighth.
Further back 76 year old Kenny Smith finished 13th in his first race in the latest generation TRS car.
“I got a bit too aggressive half way through the race,” said Smith, who had fallen off the back of a bunch dicing for places at the bottom of the top ten.
“That was the wrong thing to do. I needed to get back to driving smoothly.” He will start his 47th New Zealand Grand Prix tomorrow.
Toyota Racing Series, Round 5, Manfeild, Saturday preliminary race:
1, Richard Verschoor (Netherlands);
2, Robert Shwartzman (Russia);
3, Clement Novalak (England);
4, Brendon Leitch (Invercargill);
5, Marcus Armstrong (Christchurch);
6, Juan-Manuel Correa (USA);
7, Ryan Yardley (Christchurch);
8, James Pull (England);
9, Reid Harker (Albany);
10, Taylor Cockerton (Pukekohe).
Progress points after 13 of 15 races:
1, Armstrong, 810;
2, Shwartzman, 795;
3, Verschoor, 776;
4, Correa, 657;
5, Pull, 620;
6, Novalak, 599;
7, Leitch, 510;
8, Cockerton, 481;
9, Harker, 466;
10, Yardley, 458