Blewett dominates crash-marred championship opener at Pukekohe
Defending Toyota 86 Champion Ash Blewett has dominated the first races of the 2016-2017 championship at Pukekohe, taking two wins and one second place as crashes blighted the opening round.
Blewett won the opening race on Saturday from pole position, in a clean flag to flag victory that kept him clear of multiple crashes that took four competitors out of the race. His toughest challenge came from CareVets Racing's Ryan Yardley, with Australian Will Brown tagging onto the rear of Yardley's car to form a three car draft down Pukekohe's long front and rear straights.
Tom Stokes and Mike Lightfoot tangled on the back straight on lap five, both cars suffering extensive panel damage as they slid down the safety barrier walls. Australian Drew Ridge then went off on lap ten, making contact with Jacob Smith as he rejoined and tapping Smith’s car into the tyre wall at Railway Corner.
The race ended under a safety car. Fastest lap was set by Ryan Yardley, a 1:14.928.
On Sunday morning, it was the turn of Albany racer Reid Harker to celebrate. He battled Ash Blewett for twelve laps to take the win.
Harker started alongside pole man Jack Milligan for the start and made the better launch, taking the lead while Blewett was charging up from a start of sixth in the partial reverse grid leaving Michael Scott, Australian Will Brown, CareVets Racing drivers Jack Milligan and Ryan Yardley in a struggle for the remaining podium spot.
Driving the Aegis Oils/Washworld TR 86, Harker had no easy run to the flag. He spent the race watching his rearview mirrors and defending against repeated overtaking attempts by Blewett, the pair extending a lead of more than four seconds over the pursuing pack.
“That was a real race. Ash is fantastic to race against, he runs so clean but so hard, he really had me working for the whole distance,” Harker said afterward.
The gap between Harker and Blewett at the flag was just .235 seconds.
Behind the flying pair the battle for third went Michael Scott's way, with pole man Jack Milligan next in the CareVets Racing 17 car, then Australian Will Brown and the second CareVets car of Ryan Yardley rounding out the top six with less than a second between each of the latter cars. Will Brown set the fastest lap of the race, a 1:15.222.
In the third race the grid was decided by second-fastest qualifying time, Blewett and Yardley taking up the front row with Will Brown and Michael Scott on row two.
At the start, Yardley and Brown slotted in close behind Blewett and made a three car ‘drafting’ convoy down the back straight.
Michael Scott, Reid Harker and others were soon well strung out behind the leaders. Brown slipped back slightly and was defending third from Scott and Harker, then a three-car melee saw the Australian pushed back to sixth.
The race was then red flagged after a spectacular crash took out Michael Scott, his Northland Toyota TR 86 spinning off the track on the run up to the Pukekohe ‘mountain’ corner and vaulting over the catch fencing.
Scott was visibly shaken but emerged from the car to give the crowd the thumbs-up.
Blewett crossed the line the winner from Yardley and Harker. The gap between the leading pair at race end was just .180 seconds. Australian Drew Ridge set fastest race lap, a 1:15.364, in the Albany Toyota/Castrol car 23.