Igor dominates NZGP to take TRS title
Igor Fraga came of age today in New Zealand, winning the Grand Prix and the Castrol Toyota Racing Series title with a stylish and dominant drive that marked him out as a potential next-in-line to countrymen Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna as a Brazilian Formula 1 champion.
Six Formula One World Drivers’ Champions have won the New Zealand Grand Prix, including three-time champions Sir Jack Brabham and Sir Jackie Stewart. One of the great lost talents of Formula 1 – Brazilian Roberto Moreno – won it too back in 1982 and was on hand to watch countryman and protégé Fraga lead the Grand Prix and pip Red Bull Junior and reigning champion Liam Lawson to the title.
Fraga is a fascinating case. From a modest background that included him and his father Fabrizio living out of a car and showering with bottles of water to go racing in the United States, Igor has risen through the ranks of karting and the 21st century racing phenomena of eSports to mark himself out as a hot prospect in the real world of racing.
It was fitting that Fabrizio Fraga was one of the first to congratulate the humble and popular racer, who was somewhat overcome after a tough five weekend battle that was the focus of the international racing world.
“It is an unbelievable feeling to win,” he said on the podium. “I am very, very happy to succeed and it’s something really special. It is important to thank everyone who has been supporting me here. Obviously my parents, but also Gran Turismo who have since last year been crucial to my career. All of the M2 Competition guys have been working very hard to deliver a competitive car too.”
Fraga set the standard from the moment the lights went out for the 35 lap race of the challenging, cambered Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon track. He made three clean restarts from Safety Car periods and left nothing for his challengers to grasp as an opportunity. Chief amongst those challengers was reigning champion Liam Lawson, who piled on the pressure from the word go but could not find a way by ‘ice cool Igor’ and fell away as the race wore on. One massive final effort after the final restart came to nothing and as Fraga pressed home his advantage in the late stages of the race, all hope for Lawson was lost when he hit the rev limiter on the back straight in his chase of the Brazilian and was passed by the champion rookie of the series, Argentinian Franco Colapinto.
Colapinto – a protégé of another great F1 racer, Fernando Alonso – has like Fraga been a find of this year’s Castrol Toyota Racing Series and in his final race didn’t disappoint with his supreme passing skills after a pretty average start.
Front row starter Caio Collet, looking for a great ending to what has arguably been a disappointing championship campaign for the Brazilian, had to be satisfied with fourth on the road after losing out to Lawson in a fantastic pass by the Kiwi early on and by Colapinto in the final laps of the race. Petr Ptacek put in one of his best drives in two seasons of racing in the New Zealand championship to take a fighting fifth place, the only driver to halt a flying Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese Red Bull Junior started 14th and as at Pukekohe a week before, wowed the crowds with some fantastic passes to find himself in the top group in the final segment of the race. One could only wonder what might have been possible had he started near the front.
Spike Kohlbecker of the United States ended his best weekend in the 2020 series with a solid seventh place ahead of Jackson Walls – who now heads to Europe as a TRS race winner when he joins Arden for a Formula Renault Eurocup campaign. Grégoire Saucy showed plenty of pace early on in the race but fell back to ninth at the end, while Lucas Petersson also had a solid run through to the final place in the top ten.
A little further back in 15th place was the remarkable Kenny Smith. His 49th New Zealand Grand Prix start – and finish – meant he has completed 75% of all New Zealand Grand Prix races ever run, dating back to his early days racing the likes of Jim Clark. Starting from the pit lane after an awful qualifying session in which he failed to record a time, he stayed in touch throughout, completed the race and was within half a lap of the race and championship winner at the flag in 15th place. At the age of 78 the legend rightly received a massive cheer from the fans as he crossed the line.