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On form Fraga outguns champion for Hulme Memorial Trophy pole

Igor Fraga laid down a form challenge for the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy race at Hampton Downs this morning, fending off a strong challenge from series leader and reigning champion Liam Lawson in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series.

Fraga won Saturday’s race and is fast becoming the main challenger to Red Bull Junior and M2 Competition teammate Lawson as the New Zealand series reaches its halfway point.

The first fast laps didn’t start to show on the timing until about five minutes into the 15-minute session and as the drivers got back into the groove around the North Waikato track it was Argentina’s Franco Colapinto and Axel Gnos who were first to show with laps under 1 minute 3 seconds. Saturday winner Igor Fraga then popped to the top of the timesheets with a 1 minute 1 second lap and once again, it was his teammate Liam Lawson who joined him in the battle for pole position for the feature race.

Fraga fought back immediately with a 1 minute .885 lap while Yuki Tsunoda jumped up to third with five minutes remaining with his best lap of the weekend. Petr Ptacek responded in his mtec Motorsport engineered by R-Ace GP entry to push the Japanese racer down to third, and Colapinto and Grégoire Saucy also entered the frame as lap times were traded and positions gained or lost by just thousandths of a second.

Lawson bettered Fraga’s time by a couple of hundredths to go fastest with three minutes left of the session as the regular series front runners fought out the rest of the places in a top ten that was covered by just four tenths. The impressive Fraga then clocked the best time of the weekend with a 1 minute .747 second lap, a half tenth ahead of Lawson’s best.

On the final flying lap Lawson responded again to pip the Brazilian by three one hundredths, but Fraga still had something left and after resting his tyres on his penultimate lap, he threw in a final big push and clocked a 1 minute .696 lap – a new weekend best and pole position by two one hundredths ahead of the champion.

“When I saw the time on my dashboard, I thought ‘ok’ it’s going to be very close,” Fraga explained after qualifying.” “I feel very comfortable, the car was very consistent as well. I was able to start to push and get the times lower. I am thinking more about the championship now. I’m trying to keep the consistency and be strong for the rest of the championship.”

Grégoire Saucy was an impressive third for Giles Motorsport and on the pace of the top two while Ptacek – who finished third in Saturday’s race – was a couple of tenths down in fourth position. Caio Collet and Yuki Tsunoda locked out the third row in fifth and sixth respectively, while Jackson Walls showed great pace again in the last few moments of the session to end up seventh. Despite his early pace in the session, Colapinto wound up eighth, with Oliver Rasmussen and Lirim Zendeli completing the top ten.

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