Invercargill’s Brendon Leitch has made history, becoming the first local driver to win the ‘home’ Toyota Racing Series feature race, the Spirit of a Nation.
Just 19 years old and in his second season of TRS, Leitch has struggled to fully fund his racing but drove the race of his career, fending off a determined charge from young American Santino Ferrucci that saw the pair side by side in the first corner when the race started. He quickly took command of the race, extending a lead of half a second that become two seconds late in the race when Ferrucci slid wide while challenging for the lead.
British racer Sam MacLeod started the race in a strong third place but soon came under attacked from Canadian Lance Stroll and Arjun Maini.
Lance Stroll, who won the first round, was now on a charge and overtook Sam Macleod to be third. Arjun Maini followed suit, stepping up to fourth. The top twelve were all posting 53 second laps, well inside the previous lap record.
Ferrucci set the fastest lap of the race, a 53.659, at mid-distance.
Through the whole 20 laps, Leitch controlled the race from the front in a mature display, responding to repeated attacks by Ferrucci but managing his car’s grip through the 32 degree heat as track surface temperatures edged toward 50 degrees.
“That was the best race I have ever driven, the car was great. I was able to watch Santino and keep a half second or so on him, then when he slid off I was more confident of holding onto the lead. We’ve been chasing down funding for the series and we still need to add to our sponsorship to complete the series but this is a massive boost. I’m just so happy,“ he said afterward.
Lance Stroll closed in on Ferrucci in the last five laps, finishing just .373 seconds behind the American and banking valuable points to keep his championship lead intact.
Earlier in the day, another local driver also scored a creditable win, taking victory in the morning’s TRS race. Jamie Conroy, in his first season of TRS and only his fifth race start in the category, took a clean and unfussed flag to flag victory, adding useful points to his championship tally.
The championship battle is now between Stroll on 399 points, Maini on 311 points and Brendon Leitch on 247. There are three New Zealanders in the top six – Brendon Leitch, 3rd, James Munro fourth and Jamie Conroy sixth. Brendon Leitch’s elder brother Damon, struggling with transmission issues, is 13th.
The series now faces a long haul north to Hampton Downs in the Waikato for the mid-point round in the five week, 16 race series.