Defending Toyota 86 Champion Ash Blewett has dominated race one of the 2016-2017 championship at Pukekohe this morning, racing from pole position in his West City/Mobil TR 86 for a clean flag to flag victory and avoiding multi-car mayhem behind him.
Blewett says the race start was a close battle between himself and CareVets Racing's Ryan Yardley, with Australian Will Brown tagging onto the rear of Yardley's car to form a three car draft down Pukekohe's long front and rear straights. Pole position at Pukekohe is on the less-favoured 'inside' of the start-finish straight, which is off the racing line used by competitors and offers drivers much less grip in a standing start.
A safety car period that bunched the field enabled Yardley and Brown to get closer to Blewett but "I was able to extend my lead back out without too much problem. Ryan and Will are looking fast, but it was hard to judge because they got locked into their own little battle".
Yardley found himself defending from a determined Will Brown while trying to challenge Ash Blewett for the lead and twice stepped his car out to one side to challenge for the lead but was then forced to cover Brown who looked set to slip down the inside of his car. Yardley set fastest lap of the race, a new lap record of 1:14.928.
Two big crashes marred the race.
First, Tom Stokes and Mike Lightfoot tangled on the back straight on lap five, both cars suffering extensive panel damage as they slid down the safety barrier walls and forcing a safety car period while recovery was completed.
Then early in lap ten Drew Ridge slid off the track at the end of the 'esses' and as he regained the tarmac tapped the front of Jacob Smith's car.
The contact helped keep Ridge's Albany Toyota/Castrol car on the circuit but forced Smith off into the tyre wall at Railway Corner.
Miles Cockram also slid into the barrier at Railway bare seconds after Smith's Hamilton Asphalts/Tony Richards Toyota car came to rest.
The ensuing safety car period was held to the end of the race.
"It's always disappointing to finish under the safety car," said Blewett. "But we don't get to choose that, it's just racing isn't it?"