Christchurch's Caine Lobb topped the round points at the end of a very competitive first round of the SsangYong Racing Series at Pukekohe Park Raceway over the weekend.
An impressive 29 drivers competed in front of the largest crowd that the popular Series races at each year, with the first round of the third ever SsangYong Racing Series racing as a support class for the ITM Super Sprint weekend at Pukekohe, featuring the Australian V8 Supercars.
Former NZ V8 Ute Champion and previous SsangYong Racing Series race and round winner Lobb was the fastest qualifier in his #36 MTF Finance sponsored Actyon Ute, ahead of former Series Champion Daniel Connor in his #90 LDV Vans Actyon. Hawkes Bay's Rowan Shepherd, running his #2 SsangYong Actyon in new Bolt Shop colours, qualified third. Alexandra Whitley, Joel Herbert, and Christina Orr-West completed the top six.
Connor then went on to win yet another highly entertaining and action packed first race in front of a large Saturday crowd, with the always tough Pukekohe surface and layout providing many challenges around each of the ten laps for everyone. An unfortunate incident on the opening lap saw Kirk Stoneman, Ryan Bailey, Callum Hedge, and Mark Mallard all sustaining major damage after Stoneman spun off the exit of turn six, which also bought out the Safety Car. Connor surprised Lobb with a late last lap pass for the win, while Lobb finished a close second, followed by expat Australian Alexandra Whitley, who just pipped Joel Herbert and Shepherd at the line by the narrowest of margins. Wanganui's Matt Gibson completed the top six.
The second race on Sunday morning lined up with the top ten reversed from their finishing positions from Race 1, with last year's Pukekohe round winner Kieron Rollinson starting from pole position alongside Todd Prujean, with Connor and Lobb from row five.
Rollinson led from the start, coming under pressure from Prujean and Shepherd. Contact between the three drivers at the hairpin saw Rollinson spin, dropping the BGW Wheels Ute down the order. Another incident saw Whitley spin off at Turn 1, after contact, burying the Waikato SsangYong driver in the gravel trap, bringing out another Safety Car.
Shepherd held on for the win in the end, ahead of Prujean, a charging Lobb, Gibson, Orr-West, and Royce Rollinson. Prujean was assessed with a time penalty post-race, after the contact with Kieron Rollinson at the hairpin, dropping him down the order to eighth place.
Lobb then scored another hard-earned victory in the final race to give him the round win. It was another classic SsangYong Racing Series battle for the top spots, as Lobb was chased for the whole race by Shepherd, who tried a last lap run down to the line, just coming up short by just four hundreths of a second. They were followed across the line by Connor, Gibson, Royce Rollinson, and Prujean.
So after three exciting and action packed SsangYong Racing Series races at Pukekohe, Caine Lobb (399 points) narrowly won the round, ahead of Connor (379 points), and Shepherd (334 points). Gibson (315), Herbert (281), and Royce Rollinson (281) complete the top six. The SsangYong Racing Series now heads to Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo for the Second Round of the Championship on December 9/10/11.