The third and final race of the Toyota 86 Series at Highlands Motorsport Park has been another closely-contested affair, with Peter Vodanovich taking his first race win in the series in his CMC Markets car.
Vodanovich spent the whole race engaged in a fierce battle with race-one winner Callum Hedge and race-two winner Jaden Ransley. Rarely were any of them separated by more than a few tenths of a second, and in the end the margin of victory was just seven tenths.
After a wet race two, the track was dry for race three. Front-row starters Hedge and Vodanovich were physical off the start with the youngsters banging doors down the front straight and through the long right-hand sweeper. Vodanovich initially resisted allowing Hedge to take the lead after the sweeper, but under the bridge he leapt inside the CareVets ace to retake first position.
At the end of the opening lap Vodanovich had a meagre six-tenth lead over Hedge, Jordan Baldwin, and a long angry train of drivers led by Jaden Ransley and Arran Crighton. Halfway through lap two, Ransley nipped past Baldwin at the carousel.
In Vodanovich, Hedge had found a worthy adversary. The duo traded fastest laps across lap two and lap three. Ransley too, was fast, and scored a fastest lap of his own while trying to chase them down. Baldwin was the cork in the bottle further back, still trying to fend off Crighton, Connor Adam, and Brock Gilchrist.
Ransley's recovery had paid off by lap five, having caught up to the two race leaders. For a few laps, they simply raced in a uniform line — only the occasional peek up the inside from Hedge breaking the sequence.
With four laps Hedge made a big dive with four laps to go at the penultimate corner, pulling out late from a lunge into the sharp hairpin. The following lap he then made an aggressive move up the inside at the left-hand carousel. The pairing ran side by side with minor contact, but Vodanovich was able to pinch Hedge onto a tight line to hold him off for the following right-hander.
This left Hedge vulnerable for the following few corners to Ransley, but it didn't take long for the former F1600 driver to get back on Vodanovich's tail. The last lap came and the gap again was negligible between the top three. Hedge tried to use a wide entry line to slide underneath Vodanovich at turn 14, but the race leader was awake to the attempt and defended successfully.
They were to be no late race surprises; Vodanovich claimed his first Toyota 86 Championship race win ahead of Hedge and Ransley. In the end, the trio were separated by just nine tenths of a second. Crighton, Baldwin, and Gilchrist rounded out the top six. Adam was slated to finish the race in seventh, but a heart-in-mouth moment in the final laps saw him tumble to 14th.
The International Motorsport driver had been defending from Connor Davison but heading toward the bridge Davison was able to get a good run and go side-by-side. As they crested the bridge and got airborne, Davison landed sideways sending his Highlands-supported Toyota 86 into a violent slide. He managed to catch it, but not quickly enough to avoid making contact with Adam at the following corner. Davison ended up crossing the line in seventh with Sam Wright, Jacob Cranston, and Justin Allen rounding out the top 10 finishers.
The Championship now prepares to travel alongside the Castrol Toyota Racing Series to round four of the calendar at Teretonga Park in Invercargill next weekend.
Race 2 Result – Round 3 Highlands Motorsport Park
1. Peter Vodanovich - CMC Markets/MacClure's ITM
2. Callum Hedge - CareVets NZ Ltd
3. Jaden Ransley - Miles Toyota/Kitchen Studio
4. Arran Crighton - CareVets NZ Ltd
5. Jordan Baldwin - Intermach NZ/Carters Tyres
6. Brock Gilchrist - NEXUS Logistics/Giltrap Group
7. Connor Davison - Hampton Downs/Highlands Park
8. Sam Wright - Tony Richards Toyota/Premier
9. Jacob Cranston - Best Bars/Vista Lite
10. Justin Allen - Battery Town/Thunder Adventure
11. Campbell Stewart - NZPGS/Hydraulink
12. Kaleb Ngatoa - JJ Wallers/Capture Signs
13. Leo Bult - North Shore Toyota
14. Connor Adam - Post Haste/Weigh Northland
15. Mitch Hughes - Gilpin Cartage Contractors