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Going into the fourth round and fifth overall on points, Marcus Armstrong had decided the 2017 Toyota Racing Series title was out of reach. Ahead of him, the battle was between rookie Richard Verschoor, Thomas Randle and Jehan Daruvala.
But three races at Taupo wrought massive change for the front-runners. With pole and a P2 start from qualifying, Armstrong inserted himself into the points tussle, while Verschoor came under attack from Randle as never before.
Starting on the ‘dirty’ pole line in race one, Armstrong made a perfect start and held the lead into turn one, while Brendan Leitch swooped past Daruvala and turned the 15-lapper into an all-Kiwi battle.
The pressure was on - Leitch harried Armstrong lap after lap then Armstrong when the latter slid wide at 170 km/h going through the 'dustbowl' turn nine. The Southland racer then led Armstrong home with Daruvala third, Randle fourth and championship leader Verschoor eighth. That slashed Verschoor’s points lead to just five.
On Sunday the semi-reverse grid race put Kami Laliberte on pole with Pedro Piquet beside him, and it was the Brazilian who made the best start on the clean racing line, driving ahead of Laliberte and taking a clean line into turn one. Randle sliced through the field to finish challenge Piquet but eventualy decided second place was the better finish as it handed him the points lead.
In the feature race for the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy on Sunday afternoon, Armstrong made a perfect start from P2 and surged away, putting three car lengths on Daruvala out of turn one.
Daruvala and Ferdinand Habsburg both pursued the flying Kiwi but to no avail. Habsburg fell back as his tyres faded. Daruvala flat-spotted his left front into the fast turn 12-13 chicane, and then slid off the track on the penultimate lap, leaving the Armstrong with a winning margin of more than six seconds.
2017 Castrol Toyota Racing Series points (top ten)
1, Thomas Randle (AUS) 692;
2, Richard Verschoor (NED) 665;
3, Pedro Piquet (BRA) 661;
4, Marcus Armstrong (NZL) 598;
5, Jehan Daruvala (IND) 597;
6, Enaam Ahmed (GBR) 496;
7, Brendon Leitch (NZL) 463;
8, Taylor Cockerton (NZL) 450;
9, Kami Laliberte (CDN) 443;
10, Ferdinand Habsburg (AUT), 422.