Matthew Payne has wrapped up the 2021 Toyota Racing Series championship in a dramatic third race of the weekend at Manfeild.
Payne crossed the line first, 9.6s up the road from Billy Frazer. But he had his win stripped from him two hours after the chequered flag as officials confirmed he had breached a safety car restart regulation.
Payne’s championship conquest was all but sealed when Kaleb Ngatoa, his lead title rival, was pitched into a spin on lap one and dropped to dead last.
Despite an inpressive fightback drive by Ngatoa to finish fourth, the points defict to Payne is now out of reach with one race in hand.
“Not sure what happened on the safety car, it just seemed like it was a normal restart. I think I did my part for it all,” Payne said.
“As for the start, it was just misjudgement on my part, just too far over the box and I was trying to get reverse but I couldn’t seem to find it.
“So, I just drove as hard as I could for the rest of the race just to see if it was a ten-second penalty or if it is a five.”
Starting alongside Payne on the front row, Billy Frazer looked to take an early fight to the leader. Holding himself around the outside, Frazer was compelled to yield his challenge when Payne squeezed him wide at Turn two.
Behind, Ngatoa was making amends for a slow start, which had him drop a spot to Chris Vlok.
With the two running side-by-side on the run into the infield section, Ngatoa clipped the rear of Vlok and went into a half-spin.
Fortunately for Ngatoa, race control deployed the safety car and the field was neutralised for the first time all weekend. Then, news came that Payne had been sentenced a five-second penalty for being outside his starter box.
Fighting himself back ahead of Vlok and Conrad Clark, Ngatoa soon became mired in the wake of Peter Vodanovich. Pushing hard to get in front and keep his championship aims alive, Ngatoa could not overcome Vodanovich’s tough defence and the latter held on for his second successive podium.
Up front, Payne was pulling himself away from Frazer, posting a 1.03.539 on lap 11, which would end up as the fastest lap of the race and over half-a-second quicker than what his rivals could achieve.
With the chequered flag in sight, Frazer did manage to stay within the ten-second window of Payne, aware that another penalty may be looming over his head for an infringement at the restart.
Frazer was pleased with a performance he described as his best of the season.
“I knew Matt had a penalty so I was giving it my all and I was really happy with my consistency,” Frazer said.
“It is great to get my best podium finish in TRS. It’s great to be where I think where I believe we belong. So, bring on race two.”
Clark hung on for fifth, while Vlok rounded out the order having run as high as third at one point.