Kiwi GT ace Dom Storey and co-driver Peter Hackett will defend last year's victory of the Laser Plumbing & Electrical Hampton Downs 500 from pole position, after emerging on top in this afternoon's 30-lap 'race for the grid' qualifying sprint.
It now places the pairing in the hot seat to challenge for a second consecutive outright championship, with their main rivals Fraser Ross and Duvashen Padayachee (McLaren 650S) set to start from third.
"I think I've finished second six or seven times in the championship so that's the big one for me this weekend," said Hackett.
"We closed the gap to Fraser today but we haven't sat down yet and worked out how many points we need tomorrow to win the championship. We just have to keep pushing hard and we'll see where we end up but this is just part one."
Pole came at the end of a drawn out qualifying process. First came a 20-minute qualifying session for each of the 11 car's 'A driver', followed by a second 20-minute qualifying session for each 'B driver'.
From those two sessions, an aggregate list was created and that formed the grid for a short, sharp 30-lap afternoon sprint race; the results of grid would define the grid for tomorrow's 500km endurance epic.
Storey and Hackett were quick in both initial sessions, with the pair ending up second in each respective qualifier. That was enough for pole for the sprint race, ahead of John Martin and Liam Talbot in the Hot Wheels Porsche 911 GT3-R, and the aforementioned Ross/Padayachee.
The sprint race itself didn't go all the way of Storey and Hackett. The latter held the lead for the opening stint — surviving a safety car for the stricken Audi R8 of Tony Bates (driveshaft failure after lap one contact with Tony Quinn and Scott Taylor, pictured above), as well as a lengthy dice with Talbot.
He then handed the car over to Storey; a higher seeding and subsequently longer wait in pit lane dropping them to third on the road behind Martin and Ross. But it proved to not be much of a challenge for Storey, as one by one he picked off his two main rivals, before cruising to a 3.1-second victory and pole position.
Ross held onto third, as Geoff Emery/Garth Tander (Audi), Max Twigg/Tony D'Alberto (Mercedes-AMG), and Steve Richards/Michael Almond (BMW) completed the top six — all three having battled five-second time penalties for start and pit-lane infractions.
The next best of the Kiwis was the International Motorsport Audi R8 of Jonny Reid and Andrew Fawcett. Having avoided the lap-one melee between Bates, Quinn, and Taylor, they ended up seventh — finishing mere tenths behind Richards.
After difficult races, the balance of the Kiwi contingent will start from ninth (Craig Baird with co-driver Taylor), 10th (Andrew Waite with co-driver Quinn), and 11th (Daniel Gaunt with co-driver Bates).
The series has a warm-up session at 9.55am tomorrow morning, with the 500km race set to begin at 1.50pm.
1. Dom Storey/Peter Hackett (Mercedes-AMG) 30 laps
2. John Martin/Liam Talbot (Porsche) +3.140
3. Fraser Ross/Duvashen Padayachee (McLaren) +14.285
4. Geoff Emery/Garth Tander (Audi) +19.686
5. Max Twigg/Tony D'Alberto (Mercedes-AMG) +19.933
6. Steve Richards/Michael Almond (Mercedes-AMG) +40.347
7. Andrew Fawcett/Jonny Reid (Audi) +40.717
8. Adrian Deitz/Cameron McConville (Lamborghini) +49.233
9. Scott Taylor/Craig Baird (Mercedes-AMG) +52.343
10. Tony Quinn/Andrew Waite (Aston Martin) +1:00.445
11. Tony Bates/Daniel Gaunt (Audi) DNF