Anthony Leighs scored a breakthrough victory in the Blackbull Markets Audi R8 GT3 at a wet Pukekohe Park for the one-hour North Island Endurance finale.
Leighs mastered the slippery conditions, overtaking erstwhile race leader Tim Edgell with just over 20 minutes remaining before seeing off a fightback from the Commodore to claim his first win of the season.
It is also Leighs’ first victory in the Audi, which he debuted at the South Auckland circuit in round one.
“Really happy with the result,” Leighs said.
“It was getting a little bit slippery towards the end there, and the boys were letting me know I had a reasonable buffer on the rest of the field. So, there was no need to take any unnecessary risks.
“The rain sort of played into our favour. The old generation Audi has been a good bit of kit for us and it worked well today.”
Leighs was tutored across the season by experienced Kiwi racer Tom Alexander.
The pair will race alongside each other in the three-hour South Island endurance series.
After leading most of the opening portion of the race, Edgell came home second.
His run to the green flag was made easier when Glenn Smith peeled into the pits before the start after the alternator light in his McLaren began sending warning signals.
However, the tricky weather conditions caught Edgell out several times, especially at the turn five chicane along the back straight.
It was there that Edgell spun and relinquished the lead to Leighs.
Still, Edgell brought the Commodore home in second, a result he was happy to walk away with.
“The V8 is pretty hard work in the wet,” Edgell said. “We have got no ABS, smaller tyres and plenty of grunt.
“It was really hard work…really treacherous at the end. Hard work with other cars, the spray and everything.
“Stoked with second. Who would have thought the old V8 would come second.”
Richie Stanaway made his first appearance in a race car since his unceremonious exit from the Australian Supercars in 2019.
An earlier pitstop and a liking to the wet conditions meant Stanaway was a man on a mission, scything his way from the fringes of the top ten to run third with ten minutes left.
However, a mechanical gremlin slowed the Toyota Camry V8 and Stanaway was forced to retire two laps from the chequered flag.
Lochlainn Fitzgerald-Symes thus came home third, albeit with one less headlight after a slight hiccup with another car late into the race.
Sean Kirkpatrick and James Webb were a commendable fourth, ahead of John Midgley and Gene Rollinson.
Smith retired the McLaren midway through the race after incurring a puncture on the back straight.
Still, the three wins he and co-driver John De Veth picked up over the season meant they walk away with another overall championship crown.
One-hour top ten
Main Image: Matt Smith