The final round of the 2014 Toyota Racing Series, and the culmination of an intensely competitive championship, was held at the Manfield Circuit near Palmerston North. The feature event of the weekend being the battle for the 59th New Zealand Grand Prix. In dry and sunny conditions the TRS field completed two days testing, where Matteo was able to set the fourth fastest time of the two days; only three tenths of a second off Championship leader Andrew Tang.
Saturday brought with it heavy rain forcing TRS to change the format of qualifying from three sessions to two, with a ten minute break in between. Although concerned by the unknown track conditions and first time on wets at the circuit, Matteo went into qualifying determined to draw on his experiences of the last five weeks. The first session was quickly interrupted by a red flag, but at the restart Matteo set a good time to qualify eighth for the first race of the weekend.
The ten minute break between sessions gave the teams time to make set-up changes. Matteo made a small change and was pleased with the result as he set sixth fastest time on the drying track, which should have been third but a last lap red-flag interruption meant the lap time did not count.
As the field prepared for the formation lap in Race one, Russian Egor Orudzhev broke a drive shaft, causing an aborted start. As the grid prepared for their second start Jann Mardenborough stalled from second on the grid and pole man Nick Cassidy also had a problem, and again the start was aborted. As a result three grid spots on the right of the grid were empty. Matteo took full advantage of the space emerging from turn one in fourth, pursuing team mate Ryan Tveter in third. Unfortunately Russian Matevos Isaakyan emerged from the pits a lap down, slotting in between Tvetter and Matteo, which held Matteo up. This gave Steijn Schothorst and Levin Amweg, in fifth and sixth respectively, the opportunity to close in on Matteo. Although Matteo was able to pass the back marker, the time he had lost with the delay meant Schothorst was on his tail and he passed Matteo on lap eleven. Amweg was quickly upon him and he and Matteo battled hard for fifth place, which Matteo was forced to relinquish a lap later. Amweg’s manoeuvre on Matteo also opened the door for fellow Giles driver Mardenborough, leaving Matteo to finish seventh.
On the run to turn one in Race Two Matteo was forced onto the grass on the inside by Brazilian Gustavo Lima, compromising his position into turn one, costing him three places. At the end of lap one the race was red flagged due to Orudzhev’s car being stranded in a dangerous position. Following the line-astern rolling re-start, Swiss driver Levin Amweg went off in turn four and Matteo slipped past Lima and set about chasing Macauley Jones for seventh. The intense and often frantic battle with Jones, allowed James Munro and Michael Scott to join in, leaving Matteo in tenth at the flag. Matteo’s focus had been on ensuring he had a healthy car for the afternoons New Zealand Grand Prix.
One of only two FIA Grand Prix’s outside of the Formula One calendar, the 35 lap New Zealand Grand Prix saw Matteo starting sixth. Matteo made a good start and was immediately up to fifth off the line then made a bid to take fourth place into turn one. An early incident brought out the Safety Car but at the restart, despite making a good jump, Matteo lost ground having to avoid an accident in turn one. This dropped him back to eleventh, but he was quickly fighting for position again. Over the next five laps Matteo made up three positions to be eighth before a second safety car period. A stunning restart saw him lunge down the outside of the field into the first corner, exiting in a fight for second. However as the field were coming to the end of the lap, and Matteo was in a heated battle with team mate Mardenborough, he lost third just as another safety car period ensued. At the restart Schotshorst was able to get a jump on Matteo and took fourth place, allowing Munro to gain an advantage and he passed Matteo into turn four. With twelve laps remaining, Amweg and Jones were edging closer to Matteo in sixth. The threesome battled ferociously for three laps, Jones managing to displace Amweg and pursue Matteo. Matteo continued to lead Jones before the Australian made an ambitious and optimistic move into the last corner, which ended the Grand Prix for both drivers.
Matteo had produced an impressive performance, which should have delivered his best result of the series and he was bitterly disappointed that his retirement from sixth should come within sight of the flag.
The Toyota Racing Series has been a great learning platform for Matteo, and he is looking forward to taking this knowledge and experience back to Europe for the coming season.
Matto said, “I have had a fantastic time in the TRS and learned a tremendous amount, although I would like to have more results to show. I’m pleased with the experience and am looking forward to continuing to make progress over the rest of the 2014 season.”