Marco Schelp has triumphed in a one-lap dash to claim the one-hour New Zealand endurance championship, edging home a tenacious Matt Whittaker.
The race was punctuated by numerous incidents, with a final full course caution leading to a final lap sprint to the finish.
Schelp had only just retaken the lead after a blinding start by Whittaker had the North Islander command proceedings for the first 45 minutes. But a sensational overtake by Schelp had the lead switch hands for the final time.
A lightning launch by Whittaker gave the No.747 entry the holeshot over Schelp. The former North Island champion established an early two-second buffer.
Early dramas inflicted upon one of the race’s favourites of the Collins Motorsport Mustang who qualified third.
Firstly, the car was stuck in gear off the start before fluid was reported to be leaking from the rear of the car.
The team were instructed by race officials to bring the car in for an inspection. One hasty look later and the Mustang was sent back on circuit, albeit with the team left dejected knowing their hopes of victory had been dashed.
Up front, Schelp was slimming the deficit to Whittaker. However, when Brad Rule grounded to a halt on the entry to pitlane, most of the field darted into the lane in anticipation of a safety car intervention.
Whittaker and Schelp stopped line astern, with the former North Island champion maintain track position. The quick stop proved critical with the race then neutralised under yellow flag conditions.
With everyone choosing to stop behind the safety car to minimise time lost in the pitstop, Nick Ross had found himself in the provisional lead of the race.
Motivated by frustration from the mechanical black flag, the Mustang was relentless in his defence, banging panels with Whittaker who searched in vain for a way through.
The move came at the hairpin, though wasn’t without a scare when a tap by the Mustang threatened to derail the Porsche’s work.
The second safety car was deployed just after the halfway mark due to a dismembered tyre bundle at the entry to the esse’s.
With the leaders bunched back up once again and Ross making his compulsory stop to cycle himself back to fourth, Schelp immediately went on the attack.
Darting in and out of the wake of Whiitaker, Schelp slithered himself into the lead with a daring move at the Turn 8. Whittaker then bowled a wide at the bus stop chicane, gifting his contender some breathing room.
With the stage set for a thrilling dash to the chequered flag, the race was interrupted by a third safety car period. This time Bob Sievwright was nerfed into the wall by the bruised Collins Motorsport Mustang.
The ten-minute safety car was cleared with enough time for one final lap to corwn this year’s national champion.
With everything to gain and nothing to lose, Whittaker pulled to the inside at Turn 1 in an opportunistic lunge for the lead. Shimmied onto the grass, Schelp clung on to the lead, eventually leading home his rival by a mere three-tenths.
After their disastrous start to the day, three safety cars played into the hands of Collins in the Mustang, getting by Garry and Ben Derick for third and class C overall. Incumbent South Island champion, Martin Dippe, was fifth.
Despite a late pitstop, Jordan Michels ran a clean race to dominate Class B in the Team Williams Honda TCR.
Andrew Gibson and Paul Booth overcame technical gremlins in qualifying tand capitalised on the safety car to claim top honours in Class A.
Main Image: Euan Cameron