Paul Manuell has kicked his Ryco 24/7 V8 Ute title defence off with the best possible start by clean sweeping the first round of the championship at Pukekohe Park.
The reigning champion was unmatched in terms of lap pace and overtaking prowess as he led every lap bar three throughout the weekend.
After securing pole position in Saturday morning’s 15-minute qualifying session, Manuell commanded the opening race of the weekend with a lights to flag win over Jake Stoneman.
Stoneman’s best opportunity to get by Manuell was on the run into turn one. But when the Diggabits Commodore nailed his launch to snatch the holeshot, Stoneman’s pursuit of victory was lost.
Manuell was the only driver capable of lapping in the 1m15 bracket and was able to balance the advantage back to Stoneman.
Stoneman did manage to keep series veteran Peter Ward at bay for all eight laps to seal second. At the same time, Ward was left to fend off newcomer Shane Dias for the final spot on the podium.
Phillip Ross got the edge on Simon Ussher to lay claim to fifth with Stuart Monteith back in sixth.
The weekend’s second race would see the top-ten runners reversed, placing Manuell right at the very back.
Still, the Pukekohe driver comprehensively worked himself to the front of the race having passed former leader Paul Fougere on just lap three of 12.
He went on to claim yet another race victory, finishing four-seconds up the road from Ward. Once again Manuell was the only driver capable of lapping in the 1.16s consistently, ensuring any threat from behind was quickly fizzled out.
Holden would go on to dominant the podium results with Shane Dias continuing his fantastic rookie campaign to finish third.
Stoneman had hoped to use to the reverse-grid format to make up some ground in the standings on Manuell. However, his race rapidly unfolded after contact with Ussher on the approach to turn three had him slip back to the rear of the grid.
He would execute a steady comeback, punching himself up to fifth by the time the chequered flag fell.
Carrying minor body panel damage, a composed Ussher was left to take fourth, while Stuart Monteith cycled back to sixth for the second race running.
The third and final race of the weekend followed a similar pattern to the first, with Manuell nailing the start before leading all laps to claim yet another dominant win.
The lead over second-placed Ward was well over two seconds by the end of lap one.
Stoneman looked to make amends for his race two blunder, setting about after Ward in a wild scrap for the runner-up spot.
Ward began to succumb to the mounting pressure of the looming Ford who was ducking in and out of his wake along both of Pukekohe’s straights.
The inevitable switch of position came on lap five and Stoneman had seven laps in hand to try and slim a massive margin to a runaway Manuell.
Ultimately, Manuell’s consistency paid dividends, and the margin only fell as low as eight-tenths by the chequered flag.
Ward rounded off the top-three finishers after a late tussle with Dias, who in turn completes a stunning debut weekend with two fourths and a third.
Ross saw a return to form by finishing fifth, holding off Ussher behind. Monteith was just a few seconds back in seventh, along with Kroef, Lowe and Fougere.
The second round the championship will be staged on the International circuit at Hampton Downs in support of the 66th New Zealand Grand Prix.