Three winners from three races:
- Evans takes race one to reassert his presence in TRS
- Marciello takes popular win in second race
- Cassidy blasts through to lead and win NZ Motor Cup feature race
Aucklander Mitch Evans has made a dominant return to the Toyota Racing Series this weekend, but it is fellow Auckland racer Nick Cassidy who gets his name on one of New Zealand motorsport’s most prestigious trophies.
Mitch Evans, race-hardened by a successful season in Europe and fresh from a “boot camp” in Australia with Mark Webber, got a clean drive off pole position to lead Saturday’s 15-lap race from start to finish, crossing the line with a margin of 2.7 seconds over second-placed Hannes van Asseldonk of Holland. He is back in the series this weekend in preparation for his defence of his New Zealand Grand Prix title at Manfeild next Sunday.
On Sunday morning, the race winning was handed to young Italian driver Raffaele Marciello, who took the lead at the start and held off all comers, extending himself a significant lead to take his maiden TRS win.
The front row of the grid for the 20-lap NZ Motor Cup race on Sunday afternoon was an all-Kiwi affair, with Mitch Evans on pole and Nick Cassidy alongside. The second row of the grid saw Hannes van Assseldonk line up behind Evans with Raffaele Marciello alongside.
Off the start, Cassidy shot into the lead. “All weekend I’ve really been able to master the starts, I’m really pleased with how it’s come together. Taupo was pretty bad by comparison, I couldn’t seem to get anything right off the starts,” Cassidy said afterward.
Making his customary aggressive start, Hannes van SAsseldonk had comne through to second place, rookie Lucas Auer past Marciello and holding fourth.
The race was immediately interrupted when Bruno Bonifacio went off at turn 2, bringing out the safety car. Three laps behind the safety car while Bonifacio’s car was recovered bunched the field up close together, and when the race went back to “green” Evans slipped neatly past van Asseldonk to be second behind Cassidy.
The gap between leader Cassidy and Evans stretched out close to a minute, Evans then mounting a charge over several laps to cut the gap back to .4 sec but then finding himself unable to get closer to Cassidy.
Behind them Dmitry Suranovich and Shahaan Engineer were side by side in the hairpin and all the way around to the front straight, Suranovich squeezing ahead of the young Indian driver.
With eight laps remaining the top ten race order was Cassidy, Evans, van Asseldonk, Auer, Marciello, Josh Hill, Nathanael Berthon, Jordan King, Jono Lester and Southland’s Damon Leitch. Jono Lester had started 12th and would go as high as eighth overall.
Dmitry Suranovich went off at turn 8, unable to regain the track. This brought out the safety car once more.
From the re-start Cassidy once more leapt away from the field, re-establishing his lead with impunity.
On the last lap, Leitch put an ambitious passing move on Jono Lester at the track’s tight downhill left hand hairpin, pushing his car up the inside of Lester and onto the track edge “ripple” strips. He slid sideways into Lester’s car, the impact spinning Lester completely around mid-track at the exit of the turn and throwing Leitch’s car into the air.
Leitch landed on the grass, his right rear suspension smashed; Lester was able to rejoin. Shahaan Engineer also visited the grass to get past the stricken car of Leitch and the spun car of Lester.
But even as the melee was sorted out, Cassidy was across the finish line to win the prestigious NZ Motor Cup and extend his championship points lead. He had posted fastest lap of the race in the process, a 1:00.944. Cassidy now has a championship tally of 730 and a 26 point advantage over van Asseldonk in second. Leitch , who led after the first round at Teretonga, has banked enough points to preserve third in the championship going into the final round, which culminates in the New Zealand Grand Prix next weekend at Manfeild.