Ferrari's junior driver claims Toyota Racing Series title
February 11, 2018 04:20 PM NPT
Robert Shwartzman claimed the Toyota Racing Series title with a second place finish in the final race at Manfeild after late drama for long-time championship leader Marcus Armstrong.
Armstrong, who had led the New Zealand-based series from the first round of the season, had a 10-point lead over fellow Ferrari Driver Academy member Shwartzman ahead of the start of the final race.
Italian Formula 4 champion Armstrong led the majority of the race, the New Zealand Grand Prix, but dropped to second behind Richard Verschoor with five laps remaining, just before Taylor Cockerton stopped on track, brining out the safety car.
Two laps were left when racing resumed, but Armstrong lost speed before the retart and dropped down the order, and Shwartzman was one of a number of drivers to overtake him just after the safety car line.
Shwartzman had spent the majority of the race running fourth, stuck behind Charles Milesi, but go the better of the French driver on the restart to move into second behind polesitter Verschoor after Armstrong's sluggish restart.
He stayed close behind the race leader but did not make a move to pass Verschoor, who was under investigation for an aggressive move for the lead on Armstrong.
Second place at the chequered flag was enough to give Shwartzman the title by five points.
Armstrong crossed the line in seventh and dropped to third in the standings behind Verschoor, who kept hold of his win - his sixth of the off-season TRS campaign.
Shwartzman, who will contest the European Formula 3 Championship with Prema as his main programme this year, was a consistent podium finisher throughout the series, but only picked up his first win at the penultimate round.
A string of three consecutive fourth place finishes in the middle of the season put him on the back foot, but the Russian managed to close the gap to Armstrong in the second half of the campaign.
His breakthrough moment came in the final race at Taupo last weekend, when Shwartzman took a lights to flag victory in a red flag disrupted race.
He kept up that momentum over the final weekend, finishing second in race one and fourth in race two - crucially ahead of Armstrong in both races.