Brandon Maisano took a flag to flag victory in today’s first race of the New Zealand Grand Prix weekend, winning the Dan Higgins Trophy despite gearshifting worries late in the race.
Racing in a strong easterly wind that slowed the cars considerably on the front straight, Maisano held off a determined challenge from Arjun Maini, who harried the Frenchman through the 20-lap race and closed to within 1.1 seconds when Maisano’s gearshift woes slowed him in the final five laps.
Behind them, British driver Sam MacLeod had a strong run in the opening laps then a lonely drive to third overall, well clear of the chasing pack but not able to close in on Maini for any length of time.
Newly announced Red Bull Junior driver Callum Ilott was a clear fourth overall, adding valuable points to his championship tally ahead of Santino Ferrucci, who had sliced through the field from a start position on the fifth row. Sixth in a determined drive that saw him power past GP2 racer Artem Markelov was championship leader Lance Stroll, 16, of Canada.
Promising Australian teenager Thomas Randle was also fast until he spun at the infield ‘’esses’. He dropped to last but was able to overtake Nikita Mazepin before the end of the race.
Maisano said afterward he was pleased to take the win after a strong performance at the Taupo round that was marred by a spectacular crash in the feature race.
He said this weekend his car’s setup got him off the line cleanly at the race start and then enabled him to dictate race pace through the first 10-12 laps.
“The team gave me a great car, it was getting good drive out of the corners and had good speed. When the shifting problem happened I just had to drive to make sure I stayed away from Arjun,” he said.
Though happy enough with second and valuable points toward the title fight, Maini was left regretting the race wasn’t five laps longer, as he had closed almost to within range to challenge for the lead but had run out of laps. The gap between Maisano and maini at race end as 1.150 seconds. Sam MacLeod in third was another 2.997 behind Maini.
The top New Zealand driver was James Munro, ninth overall. Munro had overtaken Damon Leitch to take the position.
Maisano set a new category lap record for Manfeild, a 1:02.653 in lap seven while locked in battle with Maini.
At the podium afterward, Maisano as race winner was asked to draw the marble that would dictate the partial reverse grid for the first Sunday race. He drew a six, putting his team-mate lance Stroll on pole with fast young American Santino Ferrucci alongside him. With Maisano and Ferrucci starting from the third row, Stroll’s title prospects are now almost assured.
Race two for TRS starts at 10.32 am Sunday morning while the feature race, the 60th New Zealand Grand Prix over 35 laps, starts at 3.40 pm NZDST.