Three teenagers, Marcus Armstrong, Robert Shwartzman and Richard Verschoor have everything to gain and lose when the New Zealand Grand Prix is held at Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild on Sunday afternoon. The trio are the leading contenders in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series, which comes to a climax at the Manawatu track.
The trio, together with Clement Novalak, who was second fastest behind championship leader Armstrong had the quickest times in the three practice sessions today.
Apart from the pressure of trying to beat one another to the Grand Prix title and the championship, there is the conundrum of managing the tyres on their cars and dealing with the likelihood of forecast rain for the feature race on Sunday.
If it remains dry drivers only have two sets of tyres for a total of 70 laps of racing on Saturday and Sunday. The Grand Prix is over 35 laps, while the two preliminary races are 20 and 15 laps long.
“The tyres are really good for 5 or 6 laps and then they drop off,” said 17 year old English teenager James Pull. “Then they are OK for another 12-15 laps,” commented Cameron Das from Baltimore, USA. “Then they get worse again.”
But if it rains, the slick dry weather racing tyres will become superfluous, and the grooved wet weather tyres will become all important.
Going on past performance, Verschoor, the 17 year old from the Netherlands, won easily in the rain at Teretonga 12 months ago, while 18 year old Shwartzman from St Petersburg in Russia was quick in the rain at Ruapuna 4 weeks ago.
Armstrong starts the weekend with a 33 points lead over Shwartzman, with Verschoor another 27 points behind.
Their first hurdle is getting through tomorrow morning’s qualifying, where a place on the front row of the grid is all important.
Only hundredths of a second have separated the leading contenders, so that whoever can make the most of a good start, can control the race.
Armstrong has the opportunity to be the first Kiwi since Nick Cassidy five years ago to win the Grand Prix and the Toyota Racing Series title.
Fastest practice times from all 3 sessions
1, Marcus Armstrong (Christchurch) 62.976 seconds;
2, Clement Novalak (England) 63.085;
3, Richard Verschoor (Netherlands) 63.102;
4, Robert Shwartzman (Russia) 63.174;
5, Charles Milesi (France) 63.297;
6, Brendon Leitch (Invercargill) 63.309;
7, Cameron Das (USA) 63.380;
8, Juan Manuel Correa (USA) 63.496;
9, Taylor Cockerton (Pukekohe) 63.683;
10, James Pull (England) 63.705;