Red Bull racer takes first win, Leitch on the podium
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Australasian talent has dominated the first day of Castrol Toyota Racing Series competition at Teretonga in Invercargill, on a day where controversy clouded the race results.
The first race of the weekend was won by Australian Thomas Randle, however post-race penalties were set to shuffle the order - helping pass on the race win to series leader Richard Verschoor, and second place to Brendon Leitch.
Local racer Leitch and his ITM FT-50 set the tone for the day after qualifying third and then first in the opening two qualifying sessions - his pole helping him gain pole position for tomorrow's feature race.
"We've got really good speed, and I'm really happy to come home and just put some big points on the table," Leitch told <i>herald.co.nz</i>.
"A couple of years ago we did it as well, so I know what we're up against out there, and I definitely think that we've got the speed to push on for the win.”
Leitch's Victory R teammate Thomas Randle claimed pole position for the first race, ahead of Richard Verschoor, Leitch, Pedro Piquet, and Ferdinand Habsburg.
"We're proving really strong this weekend, the Victory R boys have done a fantastic job. Great speed this weekend," added Leitch.
"I think Victory R are very underrated, which is a bit of a shame. But obviously we've proved that we've got the speed to be there. As much as the M2 guys win a lot of races, these guys are just as good."
And that top five was how the order would remain as the chequered flag fell on the opening 15-lap race - Randle leading home Verschoor by just over a second, with another second separating the Red Bull driver from Leitch.
"The car performed really well. Verschoor beat me off the line, and then because I had the line he had to give up the position. And from then on it was just about keeping my head down and not making any mistakes," said Randle.
"My first year in TRS was straight after I'd drove in Formula Ford, so I had no wings and slicks experience. But now I've done a full season in British F3, so I've come here with the aim of winning the championship.
"So that's what I'm trying to do, and if I can keep doing this hopefully I've got a good chance."
Two cars behind was Leitch, who was happy to add to his 2017 points haul. Having threatened the leading two cars over the opening laps, Leitch eventually faded back to take a comfortable third.
"It was [about] conservation. I didn't want to fall back into the clutches of the next guys behind, but the amount of aero-wash we're having out there today with the wee breeze is just enough to disturb the car," he said.
"I'm really happy to come home and just put some big points on the table."
However, following the race, investigations would be launched against both Randle and Leitch, as well as a selection of other drivers, each for a jumped start.
Ultimately Randle, as well as Jehan Daruvala, and 10th-place finisher Harry Hayek would each receive a 10-second penalty, muddling the order. Second-place finisher Verschoor took the win to extend his lead of the series, with Leitch in second. Pedro Piquet took the final spot on the podium, ahead of Habsburg, and Enaam Ahmed.
Taylor Cockerton was the next best New Zealander, claiming eighth place having started from outside of the top 10 before being promoted to sixth following the penalties.
The Bombay driver spent most of the race breathing down the neck of Force India Academy pilot Jehan Daruvala, before passing him post-race following the spate of penalties.
Former race winner Randle eventually fell to seventh in the order, with Christian Hahn, Daruvala, and Keyvan Andres rounding out the top 10. Round 1 star Marcus Armstrong fell just short of the top 10, finishing 11th.
Two more races follow for the series tomorrow, with the final feature race set to decide the Spirit of a Nation Trophy.