Auckland racer Hayden Williams carried the momentum of three recent Baypark Speedway wins to cash in at the inaugural big-dollar 50-lap midget car race at the Mount Maunganui track on Saturday night.
Williams battled with reigning and former national champions Michael Pickens and Brad Mosen in an exciting race that saw each driver take a turn at the front.
Apart from a moment when Mosen edged ahead into turn one, it was Pickens who made the pace for the first 35 laps. He built a clear lead during an early green flag run but his engine suffered a hesitation that made him vulnerable at the two wide restarts.
In the middle stages, a fast outside line began working for 2015 national champ Mosen and he began to apply pressure to Pickens.
It was the final restart with 15 laps to go that cost Pickens dearly and he slipped back to fourth momentarily as Mosen seized the lead.
The tables turned again on lap 43 when Williams made an inside move and stayed in front of Mosen to secure the $5000 winner's share of a $20,000 purse.
Williams was debuting a new chassis after a heavy rear impact with the wall the previous weekend in Auckland.
"My car worked better on the bottom and I knew the bottom would come in at the end of the race," Williams said.
"I made my move with about six laps to go and when the white flag came out, I slowed a little bit and made sure I hit my marks.
"It's my first win in a big 50-lapper and it's cool to do it after the adversity of building a new car. On Tuesday night our car was in pieces so this is really up there with my best wins."
The flow of the race worked to Williams' preferred strategy.
"I never like leading a race when the track changes so much. I like to sit back a little and see where their weaknesses are and your strengths are.
"They weren't running the bottom and when I went to the bottom my car started sticking. I gave it my all and never gave up."
Williams' winning margin was 1.2s and Pickens was just 0.4s behind Mosen. Ryan O'Connor raced forward from a grid-16 start to finish fourth and Ricky McGough was the only other finisher on the lead lap.
"Credit to Hayden, I think we were evenly matched and I don't think the high line went off," Mosen said.
"I think [Williams] started hitting [the lower groove] properly and I made one mistake down in turn three and four when he passed me and then it was evenly matched to the end.
"It was a good race and a confidence booster moving into the New Zealand title [in Auckland later this month]."
Pickens had clocked the fastest qualifying time and put himself on pole position for the 50-lapper with a convincing win in the 10-lap A-Dash.
"I was on the back foot on the restarts because the motor wouldn't take off," Pickens said.
Hamilton's Daniel Thomas led home Ryan O'Connor in the sprint car feature race and Kenny Roberts took a clear win in the 15-lap feature race for the Formula 2 Midgets.