Smeg Racing's Simon Evans took first blood in a thrilling first BNT NZ Touring Car race at Pukekohe Park Raceway. However, the win didn't come easy for the reigning champion, who had to fight his way past Nissan driver Nick Ross.
At the start, the field fanned out on the approach to turn one, as the second row squeezed through with Sam Barry, Tom Alexander, and Jason Bargwanna went side-by-side.
Ross launched into the lead through turn two, as he held his own around the outside of Evans into the first turn.
From fifth on the road, Jason Bargwanna nearly lost his Class One Ford Falcon cresting the front straight. The Australian Bathurst 1000 champion found himself out wide on the grass, but kept the car straight.
The fight for the lead was solely between Ross in the Nissan Altima, and Evans in the Holden Commodore. The pair streaked away with the lead to leave Barry, Alexander, and Bargwanna to scrap over the final place on the podium.
Evans nearly made his way past on lap four of 14, but managed to keep the reigning NZ Touring Car champion at bay. The pressure continued to mount on Ross as Evans hounded the back of the Total Nissan.
Meanwhile, in Class Two, Brad Lathrope was holding his own ahead of Nick Farrier who was beginning to mount a challenge.
Lap nine, and Evans finally looked to make a pass. Ross covered the line into turn five, but got bogged down taking the defensive line. Evans looked to pass into the hairpin, and the pair made contact.
Drama struck as Ross' bonnet came up on one side. It didn't appear to affect him too much, but the lapped traffic was beginning to have an affect as the leaders got baulked by the slower Class Two cars.
A lap later, and the Evans made an almost identical move a the hairpin. This time, however, he moved through and ran side-by-side with Ross for the lead. Evans managed to hold the outside line through the fast penultimate corner.
In what had been a largely clean race, the only casualty came when Class One debutant Brock Cooley spun at turn five, and made contact with the inside wall.
After Evans made his way past, he leapt away with the lead. With only a lap remaining, he stretched the margin to eight seconds.
Ultimately, it was Evans who took the opening scalp in Class One, whilst Brad Lathrope stormed to victory in Class Two. Nick Ross held on to take second, whilst Sam Barry brought home third. Nick Farrier and Steve Taylor completed the podium in Class Two.