Young Indian racer Arjun Maini kept his head while a number of his fellow Toyota Racing Series drivers were caught in an early melee to win race one of the weekend at Hampton Downs yesterday.
Starting from pole, Maini rocketed away to secure the race lead from Scot Sam MacLeod until turn eight where all hell broke loose. Australian Thomas Randle over-cooked on exiting the corner, running off the track. On re-entry he caused all manner of chaos.
When the dust settled Randle, Kiwi James Conroy, German Matteo Ferrer and Mexican driver Alfonso Celis Jnr were all parked up in various states of disrepair and the race was red-flagged.
"The accident looked worse on television and it didn't feel too bad, despite the car looking worse for wear," said Ferrer.
"Hitting the barrier wasn't as bad as being sandwiched by Celis."
Maini again got away well on the restart, but the red flag was shortly out again when series leader Canadian Lance Stroll and Irishman Charlie Eastwood came together.
Maini was never challenged on the re-start until another red flag due to a stranded Brendon Leitch saw the race declared finished after 11 of the scheduled 15 laps. Damon Leitch was the first Kiwi in fifth.
"I was up front so didn't see what was happening behind me with all the accidents," said Maini. "I was pleased with my restarts as they are not easy but I'll be an expert soon.
"I like the tracks in New Zealand and the car's working really well here. Once the race actually got going I was able to pull a gap quickly and then build on it."
The pressure to perform is huge for the 16 international drivers and four locals.
Ex-Formula 1 engineering and design guru, and former engineer to world motorcycle champion Kevin Schwantz, John Gentry works on Ferrer's car and reckons the need to do well in the series is paramount.
"There's massive pressure on these young guys here," said Gentry.
"There will be a few down here doing it for the hell of it because they enjoy racing cars, but there are others who are using it as a ladder to get into Formula 1.
"Callum [Ilott] is in the Red Bull driver development system and every race is being closely watched by his Red Bull bosses back home. We have to do the very best for these drivers as engineers."
There's another sprint race this morning before the feature 20-lapper in the afternoon for the prestigious New Zealand Motor Cup. Frenchman Brandon Maisano starts from pole while the best of the Kiwis is James Munro in 13th.