An impressive day out for the Australian team in the Trans-Tasman TA2 Series at Ruapuna on Sunday sees the eight-strong contingent head to Round 2 at Highlands with a healthy points lead.
Their two-time national champion, Nathan Herne, was a class above the rest come race time, comfortably sweeping the round.
Having finished third in Saturday’s race, Australian Graham Cheney improved to second in Sunday’s 10-lap and 20-lap outings, while Brad Gartner completed a Sunday podium sweep for the visitors with two thirds.
There was heartbreak for the debuting Ben Stewart, who had challenged Herne right to the chequered flag on Saturday, with the 18-year-old forced out in Race 2 on Lap 4 when the rear axle snapped.
The damage was found to be terminal, forcing the former Mazda Racing Series National Champion to sit out the remainder of the weekend.
Stewart again took the challenge to Herne off the line in Sunday morning’s opener but struggled to find tyre temperature on the colder morning, which allowed the Australian to pull a gap.
Once again, the duo quickly cleared away from the chasing field, with Michael Coulter moving up to third early, ahead of Kiwi Brent Collins, while New Zealand captain Peter Ward dropped to seventh.
While Australians Gartner and Crutcher came together in Saturday’s opener, resulting in the latter spinning, it was time for the Kiwis to return serve, with Andrew Turner turned while battling with Brett Rudd.
A heavy kerb strike on Lap 4 seemed the cause of Stewart’s problems, with the Kiwi’s car veering right and forced to limp to the lane.
Cheney inherited second and Collins third in front of a hard-charging Gartner who had worked his way to fourth from tenth on the grid.
Contact between Collins and Gartner sent the Kiwi into a spin, but he resumed in fourth. The Australian copped a 10-second penalty for the contact that provisionally dropped him to fifth post-race, but the decision was reversed on further review, and he retained the podium place.
A flying finish from Ward brought him onto the tail of Collins at the chequered flag for a hard-fought fifth.
With Stewart gone from the mix, Herne cruised for a comfortable 18-second victory over Cheney, with Gartner a further 3 seconds behind in third.
Combined points from the earlier races set the grid for the 20-Lap Feature, with Herne on pole next to compatriot Cheney, and Collins and Ward locking out Row 2 for New Zealand.
Herne quickly pulled to a lead he would not relinquish, which grew each lap.
Collins retained third off the line, while Ward dropped to sixth behind Gartner and Crutcher.
Collins’ tyres began to fade mid-race, and Cheney leapt at the opportunity to take third on Lap 8, with Crutcher following through three laps later.
Ward would take fifth, as the top-placed Kiwi, off Collins on Lap 14, with the duo making side-on contact as the move was completed.
At the chequered flag, Herne’s advantage was an impressive 29.441 seconds over Cheney, who was 3.5 seconds ahead of Gartner.
Ward, Collins and Steve Ross finished positions five through seven to salvage some points for the Kiwis in the absence of their Race 1 star.
Australia leads the series 179-134 ahead of the final round at Highlands, which will race three times in support of the famed New Zealand Grand Prix.
Saturday and Sunday’s racing will be shown live on Sky Sport.