The brand new Highlands Motorsport Park circuit at Cromwell on New Zealand’s South Island was the venue for the third round of the 2014 Toyota Racing Series. Giles Motorsport and the whole TRS field took part in two days testing ahead of the weekend. Matteo built his rhythm and pace over the course of the two sessions on the Thursday, and finishing eighth on the time sheets. Unfortunately the first session on Friday morning saw a change of fortune when Matteo was caught out on cold tyres after an early ‘red flag’ period, a bump at change of surface on the climb to the bridge destabilised the car and caused it to snap into oversteer, which took him into the wall edging the bridge. Although Matteo was not at full speed as he was still warming tyres, the impact with the wall edging the bridge was enough to cause severe damage meaning Matteo was forced to miss the crucial remaining free test sessions in the afternoon.
Clear blue skies greeted the TRS field on Saturday morning for their two qualifying sessions. Following Matteo’s accident on Friday morning a new gear box had been fitted to his car, which meant the first qualifying session would be devoted to ‘running-in’ the new differential, so he was unable to set a competitive qualifying time leaving him twenty second on the grid for Race One.
With no fast laps in Q1, Matteo started from scratch in Qualifying 2. Q2 was also interrupted by ‘red flags’ so that Matteo managed only five fast laps and did well to set more competitive times and take fourteenth on the grid for Race 3 on Sunday.
From his 23rd grid spot Matteo made a cautious start as dramatic early laps were anticipated, and such was the case as after only a lap and a half the safety car came out to control the field. His approach paid off as he was soon up to 15th and closing in on the group ahead when an ill-judged assault at the hairpin, by Croatian driver Kordic, spun him around into the gravel and retirement.
Based on his position and progress at the time, Matteo would have comfortably finished in the top ten which would have given him a much better starting spot for Race 2.
As a result of Matteo being taken out in Race 1 on Saturday, he was once again at the back of the starting grid for Race Two, in twenty second place. The Stewards decided to employ the respective best qualifying laps from qualifying rather than race classification. The Highlands Motorsport Park Circuit was swept by rain on Sunday morning and the TRS field had a very wet and spray filled race. Matteo made a good start to take two positions off the grid. The race was interrupted by four safety car periods, but despite this, during the racing laps Matteo continued to make good pace, taking passing opportunities where possible. He finished the race in tenth without mistakes, which was quite an achievement in itself, in view of his starting position and the conditions.
The rain was still falling on Sunday afternoon for the Race Three feature race, the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy, although it started to ease off as the cars went to the grid. Starting fourteenth, Matteo again made a good start and was up to tenth by the end of the first lap, at which point there was a safety car period following the inevitable incidents in the treacherous conditions. At the restart Matteo was soon into fifth place, but came under pressure and forced to defend from Egor Orudzhev. Matteo held the Russian off for a while, but decided eventually to relinquish the position to avoid being taken out (again). He soon came under pressure from New Zealander James Munro who generally had better speed, although, Matteo was quicker exiting corners. Unfortunately the pressure forced Matteo into a small error at the hairpin, giving Munro the opportunity to get through. A lap later Orudzhev’s aggressive approach cost him, as the M2 Competition driver crashed out of the race and Matteo took the chequered flag in sixth.
Despite the disappointment of Friday, Matteo recovered well and made a lot of progress over the weekend and showed his speed and competitiveness in very challenging conditions and in a tightly packed aggressive field.
Although it was a difficult weekend Matteo is optimistic, “It was very disappointing to lose nearly all of Friday practice which then affected qualifying, but my focus was to finish races, and finishing races two and three were quite encouraging. I’m looking forward to Hampton Downs and Manfield with the experience I have gained over the first three rounds.”
The 2014 Toyota Racing Series continues in New Zealand’s North Island with Round 4 at Hampton Downs, about an hour south of Auckland.