The safety car was a common sight at Teretonga, as van Asseldonk (behind) racked up two wins.
Photo: Toyota Racing Series/Bruce Jenkins
If the opening races of the Toyota Racing Series this weekend were anything to go by, then we’ll be in for a highly eventful 2012. We look back at the Teretonga event…
Before the race weekend got underway it was tricky to tell who was going to be the quickest man out there, with a number of international drivers arriving in New Zealand to take on the locals. A total of seven test sessions were held between Wednesday and Friday – from which it appeared that Austrian Lucas Auer – the reigning JK Racing Asia Series champion – was the fastest.
He backed this up in a wet qualifying session on Saturday by claiming pole position. Both Britain’s Jordan King and Ferrari protege Raffaele Marciello came within 0.15 seconds of Auer, while Josh Hill was less than three tenths off pole in fourth place.
Despite it supposedly being summer in New Zealand, the weather was far from sunny all weekend. A rain shower hit at the start of the first race on Saturday, which caught Auer out just three corners into the opening lap. He spun out of the lead, and was then collected by Marciello. Both were out of the race, and the red flags cam out.
It was Hill who led at the restart ahead of his Formula Renault UK rival Jordan King. Hannes van Asseldonk joined in to make it a three-way battle for the lead, but with a lack of space for all of them into Turn 1 Hill’s front wing clipped King’s front-right tyre and punctured it. Unable to get around the next corner, King took Van Asseldonk with him off the track and both were unable to rejoin.
With the safety car back out, the race reached the finish while the debris was still being cleared. Hill became our first race winner of 2012, ahead of Kiwis Damon Leitch (who was apparently named after Josh’s world champion father) and Jono Lester. Nathanael Berthon put in a fine performance to finish fourth. The Frenchman had only arrived in New Zealand that very morning (due to other commitments) and had missed out on all of the testing. As a result he’d qualified down in 16th, but made his way through the field despite the lack of racing laps amidst the stoppages.
Race 2 (using the average of drivers’ two fastest qualifying times) saw Auer on pole again, ahead of King, Hill and van Asseldonk. Auer held onto his lead at the start, but the safety car was soon out on track after Lester went off at the second corner. Another safety car followed soon after when Sheban Siddiqi went off. When the race got back underway once again, Auer managed to repeat his trick from the first race by going off out of the lead. The safety car was back out again, this time with van Asseldonk at the head of the queue.
A few laps after getting underway again King came to a halt out of third place, with Hill running into his compatriot again and breaking his front wing. The safety car made yet another appearance, and with the rain coming down the officials decided to call and early end to the race and declare van Asseldonk as the winner. Nick Cassidy was second ahead of Brazil’s Bruno Bonifacio, Leitch, Marciello and young Indian Shahaan Engineer.
The grid for Race 3 sees the top six finishers from Race 2 reversed. Rain was again present, and although Marciello got the better of poleman Engineer off the line, the latter would but both of them out of the race soon afterwards. Van Asseldonk inherited the lead after starting sixth, and when the rain really began to come down the red flags were out. The race was later restarted, but van Asseldonk spun out of the lead when it did. Fortunately for him the red flags were soon out again and the race was declared – with the Dutchman being awarded the win when the race was counted back a lap or two. Cassidy was second again, with Leitch third.
It is the consistent Leitch who leads the championship standings after the opening round, eight points ahead of pre-season faviourite Cassidy. Van Asseldonk is third, some 31 points off the pace due to his first race retirement, with Hill just a further four points behind in fourth. The field moves onto Timaru for the second round next weekend.
PaddockScout Driver of the Weekend: Damon Leitch – The 19-year-0ld Kiwi certainly wasn’t the quickest driver all weekend, but he did what was needed in the treacherous conditions by staying out of trouble around his local race track. As a result, he’s embarrassed the international racers and sits top of the points.
PaddockScout Index update: He may not lead the way under the TRS points system, but using the standard FIA system with 25 points for a win, Van Asseldonk’s two wins put him top of our new driver ranking system. Leitch is second, with Cassidy third. Click here to see the full rankings.