Local driver Chris White took the round win as the Nexen Tyre NZ Mazda Racing Series fought out Round 1 of their National Championship and Round 3 of their South Island Championship at Ruapuna over the weekend.
The series, with an impressive grid of 31 cars, provided some of the weekend’s best action.
White prevailed after a dominant win in Saturday’s opening race, a fifth place in the reverse top ten race on Sunday morning, and another victory in the finale on Sunday afternoon.
Ex-pat South African Stiaan Kriel, now residing in Auckland, was second overall with two seconds and an eighth across the three races, while series newcomer Ben McConochie made a sensational debut to take the final podium spot with seventh, second and fourth across the weekend.
After finishing tenth on Saturday, Warren Crowther was on pole for Sunday morning’s reverse top ten grid race. He made a good start, opening a gap on the rest of the field.
Behind him, McConochie and Stuart Lawton settled into a massive tussle for second. Towards the end of the race, it became a four-car fight for the lead as the duo closed on Crowther, and James Parker of Auckland caught up.
Crowther was under immense pressure, but a safety car was required with just two laps to go, allowing him to hold on for the win from McConochie and Parker, who snatched third from Lawton just before the caution.
White was fifth, with Karl Gaines sixth. Will Kitching, Kriel, Matt Dodd and Dashfield completed the top ten. Several drivers suffered off-course excursions during an eventful race.
Crowther said he “didn’t have the pace and got lucky with the safety car”, while McConochie said it was “the most fun he had ever had in a race car.”
The finale’s start was a ripper with White, Parker and McConchie running three-wide through the early part of the lap. White emerged in the lead, with Kriel settling in fourth.
Parker lost three spots after a small error at the beginning of Lap 2, and McConochie had a massive moment a lap later but did an incredible job to lose just one spot.
White was building another good lead and lowered his lap record from the day before with a 1:36.704 seconds before Leo Bult and Steve Brown left the circuit at the hairpin, bringing out a safety car and then a red flag. Kriel and Dashfield were second and third ahead of McConchie, Gaines and Parker.
Reigning National Champion Simon Baker had a tough weekend, having to start the opening race from the back of the grid after a technical infringement in qualifying before driving back to 11th. He was 13th on Sunday morning after a brief off-course excursion and did not finish the third and final race.
Ken Thompson of Dunedin took the Historic Class honours across the weekend in his Series 1 RX7.
The excitement now moves to Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell next weekend for Round 2 of the National Championship and the fourth and final round of the South Island Championship.