Christchurch driver Marcus Armstrong impressed on debut in the inaugural season of the Toyota Finance 86 Championship and at the opening round of the second season the 14 year old has won his first Toyota Finance 86 Championship race.
He charged through from sixth on the grid for the final race to lead and win, becoming the youngest ever driver to win a Toyota category race in New Zealand.
Armstrong, who is mentored by the experienced Andy Neale, took the lead after a multi-car incident with four laps to go and held out a hard-charging Ash Blewett to win.
Defending champion Jamie McNee led off pole in this third race with one race win already to his name, and had seemed likely to win again. McNee was chased through the opening laps of the race by Matt Gibson, Tom Alexander, Ash Blewett and Callum Quin.
Armstrong had improved to fifth when Cory Holmes crashed out of the race, bringing out a safety car while the track was cleared. The field bunched up behind McNee and Matt Gibson made a push for the lead at turn one, making contact with McNee who went off the track.
The ensuing on-track chaos was Armstrong’s opportunity to carve through the racers in front of him. He closed in in on the leading bunch and pounced in the confusion following the crash, going through to second behind Blewett and then later in the same lap slipping into the lead. His charge to the front set up a torrid two-car battle for the last four laps of the race.
While Armstrong said afterward he had come into the championship aiming for race wins, he hadn’t expected the result to come so soon.
When the tangle happened in front of him, he said, he was thinking of advice Andy Neale had given him: “if you see half a gap, grab it”.
The ensuing laps were tense as Armstrong raced Blewett to the chequered flag.
“That was huge pressure, full credit to Ash for racing clean and he was definitely trying everything he could to get back into the lead,” said Armstrong afterward.
Blewett said the dice for the lead over the closing laps was “intense”. The pair were nose to tail for the last two laps.
With a disappointed McNee driving slowly around to pit, Matt Gibson doing the same and Tom Alexander already in the pits, Callum
Quin came through to third behind Armstrong and Blewett.
The Spark/Spotify car had been oversteering through the early laps but settled as the race drew to a close, enabling Quin to take the final spot on the podium.
“The car hadn’t been predictable since we put new tyres on, so the first laps of that race were quite difficult. The rear end was sliding around and I was having trouble maintaining track position, but I hung on and third was a great way to end the weekend” Quin said.
The intensity of the racing was borne out by the race results, with three different winners across the three races: Matt Gibson started off pole to win the eight lap race on Saturday; Jamie McNee came through from second to win the second race on Sunday morning.
The provisional championship points standings have McNee leading Ash Blewett by just six points 187-181, Tom Alexander third on 163.
The 2014-2015 Toyota Finance 86 Championship is open to New Zealand-built TR 86 race cars and will be contested over six rounds.
It has its own TV package (screening on the Friday after each event) and features races at V8 Supertourer, Toyota Racing Series and independent race events on circuits from Invercargill to Auckland.