Kiwi international racer Michael Pickens saved the winning moves till the final laps of a fast-paced evening of racing at Baypark Speedway on Saturday night.
Aucklander Pickens worked his way forward in an incident-packed 20-lap sprint car feature race to make an inside pass on national champion Jamie Larsen (Kapiti) with six laps to go.
He then controlled two late race restarts to stay in front while a charge from Tokoroa's James Dahm saw him pass Larsen on the final lap to grab second place.
Auckland's Ryan O'Connor, Hamilton's Dean Brindle and Tokoroa's Keaton Dahm completed the top six finishers.
It was the third meeting of the season to attract a high-quality sprint car field as the racers in speedway's fastest category prepare for the New Zealand Championship at Baypark on January 8-9.
Pickens had started sixth and got in touch with the race leaders when a three-car accident eliminated the second, third and fourth placed cars of Daniel Thomas (Hamilton), Jamie McDonald (Auckland) and Brian Edwards (Te Awamutu).
"I couldn't get going until about three-quarters of the way into the race," Pickens said.
"But I got the bit between my teeth in the last few laps. I picked off second and then Jamie made a small mistake when he was leading and I was able to capitalise on that."
Pickens has targeted the NZ Sprint Car title as one of his main goals this season, hoping to add a national title win to his nine titles in the midget car division.
"We'll come down [to Baypark] another couple of times before the champs and just try to improve. You can always get better."
Baypark fans were treated to a surprise midget car debut by Bathurst 1000 winner Shane van Gisbergen who finished ninth in the feature race.
Van Gisbergen said he enjoyed his debut driving a car that was raced last summer by Nascar racer Christopher Bell and Australian Kaidon Brown. The short races and lack of practice time were the biggest challenges.
"We lost the second race with a puncture so we were kind of a race behind," van Gisbergen said.
"The races are short. I was just warming up and it was all over. It was only a three-minute race and normally I'm used to an hour and a half."
With a third and fifth placing on Saturday, Tauranga's Chris Cowling grabbed the early lead in the Barry Muir's Furniture Gallery Super Saloon Car Series, one point clear of siblings Scott and Caitlin Hayward tied for second place.
But it was Scott Hayward who led the super saloon feature race from start-to-finish to win his second main event of the year. Hayward was pressured throughout by Matt Smith (Thames) who got alongside on several occasions but couldn't make a winning move.
The midget car feature race went to Aucklander Brock Maskovich who led home Hayden Williams (Auckland) and Ryan Baker (Auckland) in the 20-lapper.
The next meeting at Baypark Speedway is on Saturday, December 5 with the second round of the Barry Muir's Furniture Gallery Super Saloon Car Series.