Sunday, Jun 23 05:47pm
AUTHOR: Matthew Hansen

Kiwis win in Suzuka: van der Drift and Leitch claim Lamborghini victories

The final podium of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia weekend at Suzuka Circuit had a definitive Kiwi flavour, with Chris van der Drift and Brendon Leitch both winning their respective Pro and Pro-Am classes while finishing first and third overall. 


The result was slight redemption for van der Drift, after his and Chen's race win on Saturday was taken away overnight after officials penalised the team for incorrect ride-height on their Lamborghini Huracan. 


Van der Drift started from third place, while Leitch's co-driver Vignale started 13th. Malaysian driver Afiq Ikhwan Yazid had pole, over Yuki Nemoto.


The races of van der Drift and Vignale started at opposite ends of the spectrum. While the former kept a watching brief on first and second, Vignale was on a march. Soon, he had fought his way into the top 10. 


However, Vignale's rapid progress through the grid didn't last. As the pit-cycle approached, neither he nor van der Drift had moved from their positions. And the fight for first hadn't changed either, although Ikhwan Yazid's lead over a Nemoto remained well under a second (van der Drift just over three seconds behind). 


Predictably once the pit-window opened, Vignale was one of the first takers — handing the controls to Leitch. Van der Drift, on the other hand, was one of the last. Once the pit cycle was complete, van der Drift's co-driver Chen was right up behind Ikhwan Yazid's co-driver Toshiuki Ochiai, who in turn was right behind new race leader Alex Au. 


It was a tantilising battle, only made more tantilising by a safety car with approximately 17 minutes to go for the stranded car of Angelo Negro. What made the safety car interesting was that it brought Leitch into the fight. The Toyota Racing Series graduate sat in seventh place. 


The race restarted with just under 10 minutes remaining, and so followed a nail-biting race to the finish for both Leitch and Chen. 


Chen soon scored second place, with Ochiai seemingly struggling with some kind of problem in the car that had led most of the race. Leitch meanwhile found himself deep in battle with Australian Richard Muscat. Leitch initially got by to get sixth, only to lose out and move back to seventh. Then they both got by Ochiai, and Leitch finally got back by Muscat to sit in a commendable fourth. 


Soon, the curse of first hit Au. This promoted Chen into first place with Juuso Puhakka right up behind him — ensuring a grandstand finish. Puhakka was aggressive in the final few laps, lunging around the outside of Chen's Italian-themed Huracan numerous times. 


But despite his best efforts, the win was Chen and van der Drift's — making up for the duo's lost win on Saturday. Leitch eventually dispatched Muscat, but couldn't quite bridge the margin to the fight for first. He eventually took third overall and first in the Pro-Am class, just over two seconds behind. Sam Fillmore rounded out the Kiwi contingent; his solo effort earning him 14th overall.