The first TCR New Zealand champion, Chris van der Drift, says he came into the inaugural weekend without any expectations on how well he would perform.
A GT regular, van der Drift had never experienced a TCR machine until the practice day before the three races at Highlands Motorsport Park.
However, back-to-back victories in the first two races put van der Drift in the championship lead heading into the final event.
When both of his leading title contenders then running into trouble, van der Drift was able to seal the crown and become the series’ first-ever champion.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” van der Drift told Velocity News.
“I had never driven a front-wheel-drive race car before, and the way a TCR drives is a very different beast to anything else.
“The car is very front happy, so it is all about getting as much heat into the rear tyres as possible.
“It is a different philosophy to drive, but the more I drove the more I enjoyed the car.”
A trouble-filled Friday practice significantly hampered van der Drift’s weekend.
The Track Tec Racing Audi continued to experience gearbox issues, which meant van der Drift failed to complete a lap before qualifying late in the afternoon.
“I didn’t get any practice in on Friday,” he said.
“The first session, we rolled out and the car got stuck in gear, so we didn’t complete a lap.
“We tried to fix it for the second session, but the same problem happened again.
“So, by qualifying, the boys were rushing to fix the issue, and I hadn’t even done a lap.
“We get on track for qualifying with 13 minutes left, and then the turbo hose blew off.
“So, yeah, it wasn’t the best first day.”
An early morning shower resulted in a wet track for race one, leaving teams split on tyre strategy.
Track Tec would opt for a complete set of slick tyres, and the gamble would pay enormous dividends as van der Drift sailed home to a crushing victory.
“We arrive on Saturday for race one, and it was wet, and I was just like ‘I have no idea what to do now.’
“But it turned out we were really fast in that race.
“I quickly caught up to [Greg] Murphy and Paul [Radisich], both of whom were running slicks on the front and wets on the rears.
“Then I picked my way past the guys running slicks and just pulled away.
“The team came over the radio and said I needed to slow down, but I was already going as easy as I could.
“I won the race by 22 seconds but didn’t do anything special.”
Van der Drift then won a closely fought race two after a race-long duel with Gene Rollinson.
The pair had finished first and second in both races and come into the finale as the leading title protagonists.
A head gasket drama for Rollinson in the early stages of race three ruled him out of the race, leaving van der Drift with an easy path to the crown.
However, the final race turned out to be van der Drift’s most difficult of the weekend.
“I kept looking in my mirrors in the first few laps and saw Gene was right behind me, so I was managing the gap.
“But as I came over the bridge one lap, I realised I couldn’t downshift, and the car became stuck in fifth gear.
“So, I look behind me and saw Gene was also gone. It turned out he had gone into the pits that lap.
“The only other driver that could have won the title was Greg, and he crashed on lap one.
“So, all I had to do was finish. But the hardest part was trying to take the hairpin in fifth without stalling.
“In the end, I just kind of threw the car into the corner. Bit of rally style.
“Then the rear tyres went cold, which made it even harder. But I managed to get there.”
As part of his prize package, van der Drift gets a free entry into any remaining TCR Australia round.
While details are still to be arranged, van der Drift says he has his eyes on a particular round if he does get across the Tasman.
“I would definitely want to do Bathurst,” he said. “I think that is really cool.
“It is a track I already know. But I still need to see how it works with me getting there.”
Van der Drift’s attention now turns to the start of the Golden Homes North Island Endurance Series, where he will be driving a Nissan GTR GT3 with Lance Hughes.