Ayrton Hodson has held on to win a thriller on debut in a Porsche 991.1 in the opening race of the Summerset GT New Zealand Championship at Taupo Motorsport Park this evening. Toyota 86 Championship winner Brock Gilchrist also enjoyed success in his first outing in the series, winning the GT4 class in a McLaren 570S GT4.
On his way to victory in the one-hour race, Hodson was forced to fend off stern challenges from Luke Manson (Porsche 992) and Rick Armstrong (Porsche 992) in the wet, with the win only set up in the final 10 minutes after Armstrong fell victim to the conditions and spun while pressuring for the lead.
“It was definitely tough out there,” said Hodson. “You had to be so patient, especially battling Rick. We didn’t have the straight-line speed of his car and had to work really hard to keep him behind me, positioning my car as best I could.
“Great way to start the season; two more races tomorrow, which will be tough, but if it’s wet, it should even the playing field again.”
The extremely wet conditions in Taupo made for an interesting qualifying session, with Armstrong immediately coming to terms with his new Porsche to qualify on pole ahead of Hodson by 1.296 seconds.
Gilchrist was one of the standouts in qualifying, putting the GT4-spec McLaren on the second row in third overall.
Clay Osborne, another stepping up from the Toyota 86 Championship and having competed in the final two rounds of the Porsche Sprint Challenge Australia, impressed to qualify fourth in a Porsche 991.
Hodson got the better launch off the rolling start on the front row, but a better line and exit at Turn 1 saw Armstrong take the lead and slowly begin to pull clear.
Osborne, meanwhile, worked into third, while Manson was also able to pass Gilchrist to take fourth, as would New Zealand Endurance Champion Sam Fillmore (Porsche 992) to slot into fifth overall.
Osborne and Manson were the first leaders to box immediately as the window opened 20 minutes in, with Armstrong following a lap later.
However, the early leader ran into difficulty on the very next circuit, spinning in the wet and losing time to the contenders.
Having jumped Osborne after their stops, Manson worked past Armstrong for the net lead of those who had stopped. Hodson was in for his stop as this unfolded and emerged side-by-side with Manson at the pit exit, running the outside line through Turn 1 and taking the position through Turns 2 and 3.
Over the second half, Armstrong went about overturning the gap to the two leaders and took second spot as the race entered its final 15 minutes.
Hodson had built a 4.5-second lead as the battle behind unfolded, which Armstrong quickly overcame and emerged on his rear with eight minutes to run.
The lead changed shortly after, but Hodson fought back a corner later, retaking the position and keeping the newer-spec Porsche at bay for several laps.
As lapped traffic came into the equation in the final three minutes, Armstrong came unstuck, locking his rears and spinning in the wet before sitting stationary and resuming.
Manson and Osborne both moved past, with the former holding on to finish second but the latter overcome by a charging Armstrong on the final lap and forced to settle for fourth.
Fillmore kept things tidy to come home fifth, ahead of Regan Scoullar (Porsche 991.2 car).
As winner of the GT4 class, Gilchrist was the last car home on the lead lap in seventh overall.
“I really enjoyed it, and adapting to the conditions. The car felt amazing, over the moon to win the first race,” he said.
“I probably overheated my tyres a little to start with battling with some other cars, so ahead of tomorrow probably just need to refocus a bit more and not battle so hard.”
Rally star Raana Horan (Porsche 991.2) moved forward from the rear of the grid to finish eighth overall.
Joel Giddy (Mercedes-AMG GT4) finished as GT4 runner-up in ninth overall; one spot ahead of the Paul Southam and Rob Steele shared Porsche 991.2, the duo recovering well from a Lap 1 spin.
Steve Scoles drove Tracktek Racing’s Ginetta G56 to a podium, finishing third in the GT4 class and 12th overall, one spot behind Open Class competitor Paul Pedersen, who had a spin mid-race in a Ford Mustang.
Pedersen is currently waiting on the arrival of a Mercedes-AMG GT2, of which the delivery has been delayed.
The GT New Zealand Championship returns for two 30-minute races on Sunday, both of which will be broadcast live on Sky Sport.