Image courtesy of Bruce Jenkins Photography/Toyota Racing New Zealand.
Two more rounds of the Toyota Racing Series today at Timaru International Motor Raceway brought mixed results for Team USA Scholarship driver Neil Alberico.
An incident-filled Race 2 this morning saw the 21-year-old Californian cross the line in sixth, only for the race stewards to impose a 50-second time penalty, which both Alberico and his Victory Motor Racing team believe was erroneous and has been appealed.
The feature event for the historic Timaru Herald Trophy was even more disappointing. Alberico found himself mired in mid-pack for much of the 20-lap contest before being unceremoniously punted by an overzealous rival in the late stages, dropping him to 18th at the checkered flag. He was later promoted to 17th when his assailant, Russian Mattevos Isaakyan, was penalized.
Former Nissan GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough, from Great Britain, won this morning’s race, while Singapore’s Andrew Tang was credited with the afternoon’s feature event win after Estonia’s Martin Rump, who was first past the checkered flag, was assessed a 10-second penalty for creeping forward on the starting grid.
The controversy in the fifth round of the 15-race championship, which takes place over five consecutive weekends, was triggered when Dutchman Steijn Schothorst blatantly jumped the start, leaping from seventh to third into the first corner. In the confusion, Alberico’s teammate, Damon Leitch, also found a way past the American who had started fourth. The yellow flags waved shortly thereafter, due to another incident on the opening lap, whereupon Leitch, in fifth, “anticipated” the restart and slithered past his older brother, Brendon, who had to brake abruptly at Turn One and was inadvertently nudged from behind by Alberico. The unfortunate Brendon Leitch spun, resuming at the back, while Alberico fell to ninth before recovering to sixth at the finish of an unsatisfactory race which ran mostly under yellow.
“Race Control penalized me for bumping Brendon on the first restart which was true but not the cause of the incident,” related Alberico. “Brendon went to Race Control to tell them what really happened and the stewards said they are not allowed to overturn a decision made by the clerk of the course. The next step is to write a letter to the New Zealand ASN to explain the situation. The team, and Brendon, are both on my side on this.”
The MotorSport New Zealand results provisionally list Alberico sixth in Race 2, which would place him eighth in the points after six rounds. If the penalty is incurred, he would fall to 17th in Race 2 and 13th in the standings. The series moves on to the impressive new Highlands Motorsport Park facility near Cromwell for three more races next weekend.
“As a team we have to take the positives out of the weekend and continue to build off our top-five finish from Saturday to have a strong result next week,” said Alberico.