Tayler Bryant and Daniel Gaunt have claimed their second Best Bars Toyota 86 endurance victory in the penultimate race of the championship at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
With a heavy shower of rain threatening to derail the final ten minutes of the one-hour race, Gaunt led home a determined Simon Evans for his second win in three races.
Still in dry conditions, Gaunt rapidly began to reel in erstwhile race leader Evans over the final stint before making his bid for the lead with just under 20-minutes on the clock.
Not to be undone, Evans stayed within striking distance of Gaunt before skating off the road at the top of the hill as the heavens began to open up on Pukekohe.
Several drivers were caught out by the sudden change in weather with Mark Mallard slipping behind Connor Adam after a podium looked firmly in hand.
Ultimately, race control gave in to the rain and deployed the safety car, the field finishing the race, 4 laps later under the safety car.
Bryant and Gaunt’s victory today adds to the one they clinched in the opening race of the championship at Hampton Downs, that saw them cling on to victory after a daring strategy call to under fuel the car. Today, however, was a win sealed on pure performance, Gaunt virtually untouchable in the second half of the race.
Earlier in the day, the duo had secured pole position. But they fell behind a fast-starting Peter Vodanovich, sharing with Mallard, who got the holeshot into turn one.
Vodanovich would maintain his steady advantage over the challenging pack throughout the opening stint before switching hands to his co-driver at the race’s midway point.
Still up front after everyone had made their pitstops, Mallard offered a competitive challenge to second-placed Evans but would fall behind the current Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy champion on the run into turn one.
Mallard was then powerless in defence to Gaunt who swept past his rival and quickly began to slim the margin to a runaway Evans.
Gaunt would post the fastest lap of the race on his 33rd tour, demonstrative of his grit to catch Evans for the lead.
The move for the front was set up on the final corner one lap later with Gaunt sailing past Evans up the inside of the fast turn one. When Evans bowled a wide at the top of the hill a few laps later, the win for Gaunt was secured.
Championship leaders coming into the weekend, Connor Adam and Billy Frazer had a quiet race. Still, they capitalised on everyone’s mistakes to round out the podium finishers.
Mallard and Vodanovich held on to finish fourth. At the same time, series debutant Ronan Murphy bounced back from an early spin on lap 12 to come home fifth alongside Chris van der Drift.
It was a strong showing by Murphy who next month will take to the full five-round Toyota 86 Sprint Series kicking off at the New Zealand Grand Prix weekend at Hampton Downs over January 22-24.
Then sister Dayle ITM-backed entry of Christina Orr-West and Rowan Shepherd had a promising qualifying performance unfold throughout the race as they struggled to match the pace of the leaders to finish seventh in the eight-car field.
Alexandra Whitley and Andre Heimgartner were the only two drivers not to finish on the lead lap, ending the race last overall after an agonisingly long pitstop.