Peter Vodanovich has scored an impressive victory in the first race of the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship at Highlands Motorsport Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Auckland ace withstood sustained pressure from championship rival Jaden Ransley of Christchurch to eventually hold on for victory.
Both front-row starters made great getaways as the race began, sitting side by side on the long drag to the first chicane.
While Ransley had a small overlap, Vodanovich braked a touch later and surged through the chicane in the lead. It was a critical moment. Both Vodanovich and Ransley had massive speed compared to the rest of the 16-car field and quickly established a significant lead over the chasing pack.
Those behind Vodanovich and Ransley provided some fantastic racing right from the get-go. Campbell Stewart, Connor Adam and Richard Peasey all got away well from the start and embroiled themselves in a race-long battle.
Championship leader Jaylyn Robotham didn’t get a good start from the second row and initially fell back, but as the first lap unfolded he quickly got into his stride and made some headway.
Stewart had initially taken Connor Adam for third, but he battled his way back with a great move later in the lap. Robotham too was on the move and fought his way back up to fourth by the end of the lap.
As the cars surged over the line it was Vodanovich and Ransley who already had a two to three-car gap ahead of the field. They were followed by Adam, Robotham, Stewart, Australian Richard Peasey, Brock Gilchrist, Justin Allen, a flying James Wilkins after a great start and Ryan Wood who was going nicely in the CareVets Scholarship car.
The two leaders continued to build a gap on the rest of the field and Ransley initially fell back from Vodanovich. That soon changed but all of the action in the eight-lapper was initially further back as the fierce scrap for fifth, sixth, and seventh unfolded.
It looked like Gilchrist might prevail, but contact with Stewart left his car wounded at the front and this allowed Stewart to pull away and lock in a top-five finish.
Gilchrist spent the second half of the race defending heavily from Peasey, who tried some thrilling moves to find a way past but ultimately couldn’t get by the feisty young Aucklander.
A late-race surge from Ransley saw the gap close between first and second to less than two car lengths. Ransley looked threatening, but as the flag fell after eight frantic laps it was a delighted Vodanovich who took the win with Ransley alongside.
“Jaden always hooks up a great battle,” Vodanovich said.
“We’re both quite respectful of each other and it produces some good racing. I was holding, he was quite fast at the end there.
“I’m happy with the drive. I think it was a bit of car, a bit of driver. We’re still going to need to work on that tonight and make sure we’re dialled in for the next race tomorrow morning.”
Some seven seconds after the first two, Adam came home in third with Robotham fourth, Stewart fifth, Gilchrist sixth, Peasey seventh, Wood eighth after a solid drive through the midfield with Allen and Jackson rounding out the top ten.
Race 2 of the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship resumed on Sunday morning at 11:10 am with Race 3 at 3:10 pm local time.