Supercars rivals Scott McLaughlin and Shane Van Gisbergen starred in a thrilling opening event of the Racing Local fundraising Eseries event. The pair crossing the finish stripe at Daytona International Speedway Road Course with exactly the same time.
2018 Toyota Racing Series Champion and NZ Grand Prix winner Liam Lawson would narrowly miss out on a podium finish. The top-three separated by a mere 0.008s at the line.
The unique event, set-up to raise money for local New Zealand businesses, featured two four-lap heats which would set the grid for a 16-lapper top-10 reverse feature race involving a full field of 60 cars.
The car used for the races was the Radical SR8 with a locked setup across the field.
Scott McLaughlin stole victory in the opening heat as Liam Lawson and Andre Heimgartner made contact while duelling for the lead on the home straight.
The pair were lucky to avoid serious damage having speared each other into the outside wall at high speeds.
Double Le Mans 24 Hours winner Brendon Hartley had a dismal start to his day, crashing out at horseshow. Further back and Hayden Paddon stayed true his WRC-roots, going for a spin a handful of corners later to rule the Rally ace out of a strong result.
Brendon Leitch and James Watson rounded off the podium in an exciting finish as the top three were separated by less than a second at the chequered flag.
Matthew Payne dominated the second four-lap affair. The KZ2 KartSport Champion converting pole position into a strong start to the lead the challenging pack into the Daytona infield before going on to an unrivalled victory 1.5s ahead of Tom Blomqvist.
Matt Stevens piped Ferrari Academy driver Marcus Armstrong on the line for the final podium position, utilising the slipstream to full effect along the flatout final sector.
Formula E pilot Mitch Evans proved to be quick early on, setting the fastest lap of the race on his second tour. But a collision between himself, Reid Harker and Gene Rollinson saw the Monaco-based driver fall to the back of the field.
It wouldn’t be all over for Harker however, the 24-year-old recovery to secure a top-five finish, awarding him pole position for the feature race.
Harker got the jump on Lawson at the green flag, building a comfortable margin in the race’s opening lap.
However, the power of the virtual slipstream allowed the challenging pack to close up entering the second tour.
An opportunistic move into turn one by Marcus Armstrong would see the Formula 2 pilot tag the race leader under brakes. The consequent collision ultimately ruling the pair out of race-winning contention and allowing Lawson to steal the lead.
Armstrong’s race wouldn’t get any better as he tripped over Ayrton Williams while limping his wounded car back to pitlane.
Upfront and McLaughlin, Lawson and Van Gisbergen seemed to be a race of their own. The top three establishing a six-second margin over Tom Blomqvist who was tangled amongst his own battle for fourth with Brendon Hartley, James Watson and Callum Hedge.
As the race wore on, it seemed the top three began playing a calculated game of leapfrog. The slipstream, coupled with the 1.2km start/finish straight, meant no one was willing to lead the final lap for fear of being piped at the line.
Van Gisbergen led the top three onto the final lap with Lawson and McLaughlin in two. The critical corner was always going to be the bus-stop chicane as the driver leading onto the main-straight would be vulnerable from behind.
The three would end a race-long battle separated by 0.008s with McLaughlin ahead on the timing broads showing as having finished at the exact same time as Van Gisbergen.
Lawson would finish an incredible race in third with Blomqvist having closed to within two seconds of the leading pack but ultimately finished the race in fourth, narrowly holding off a hard-charging Callum Hedge.
The rest of the ten was rounded out by Watson, Taylor Cockerton, Hartley, Stevens and Adam.
The night’s second event will see the field head off-road to Knoxville Speedway.