The penultimate round of the Toyota Racing Series took place in New Zealand’s North Island near Auckland at Hampton Downs. Two days testing on the sunny track proved frustrating for Matteo as he struggled to find lap time on the short circuit. In the third and final session on Friday, following a set up change, Matteo was able record the eighth quickest time, only one tenth of a second off fourth.
Matteo was apprehensive going into Qualifying on Saturday morning. The first qualifying session was again interrupted by a red flag, which came as Matteo was building his rhythm. Unable to improve his time following the restart Matteo qualified sixteenth for Race One.
With only five minutes between the two qualifying sessions Matteo made a small set up change hoping to improve his performance in second qualifying. Unfortunately the change didn’t have the desired effect and he qualified in nineteenth.
Starting on the second to last row of the grid, Matteo made a good start, passing two cars on the inside of turn one. Unfortunately he was forced to relinquish the positions he had made, and more, as the field stormed towards turn two and Matteo was squeezed out. By the end of lap one there was a safety car and Matteo was able to make a position at the restart, again into turn one. Matteo raced hard, passing people where he could and making good defensive moves to keep his position on track. Although Matteo finished the race fifteenth, his pace was competitive and put him among the ten fastest of the race.
Clear skies greeted the TRS field for Race Two on Sunday morning. Matteo made a good start but lost out to two drivers as the field rushed into turn two. Championship leader and team mate Martin Rump who had started last passed Matteo four laps into the race putting him back to twentieth. Matteo made good passes into turns one and two as he tried to make his way up the field. It was a photo finish as Matteo just lost out to James Munro by six thousandths of a second for fifteenth place.
Starting in nineteenth place on the grid for Race Three, Matteo was cautious of the field bunching up as they concertinaed into the first two corners, losing him two places, which he quickly made up as he went into the final corner of lap one. As the safety car came out on lap three Matteo was already up to sixteenth position. He made an excellent restart and shot past four cars between the start finish line and the exit of turn two. Matteo made an impressive pass on Swiss driver Levin Amweg and the pair dueled for position over the next two laps. Unfortunately Amweg had slightly better straight line speed than Matteo and ultimately won the battle. Matteo took the chequered flag in twelfth place, an impressive effort from the back of the grid.
Hampton Downs was another learning curve for Matteo and his improving race craft was evident from the three races. TRS stay in the North Island for the final race of the Championship and the legendary New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfield.
Photo by Bruce Jenkins