Kiwis came to the fore during round two of the Toyota Racing Series in scorching heat at Teretonga Park over the weekend.
The opening gambit at Ruapuna a week ago was an international driver benefit with the Kiwis struggling to come to grips with the new FT50 car.
Not so at Invercargill’s Teretonga Park, the southernmost track on the FIA race calendar.
Yesterday, Kiwis James Conroy and Brendon Leitch let the rising open wheel stars from abroad know they’re going to have a fight on their hands over the next 10 races.
Rookie Conroy, in only his fifth race in a TRS car, took advantage of his pole position for yesterday morning’s race to cross the line ahead of Russian Artem Markelov and Canadian Lance Stroll.
“It was good to get a clean start and stay ahead of a GP2 driver [Markelov] who was beside me,” said Conroy. “The team gave me a great car and it was on rails all race long so it made it easier for me as a driver.
“It’s great to get my first win but I’ve got a long way to go with my driving and this is just one of the steps. I’ll keep chipping away as the series goes along and hope to get a few more podiums.”
The feature race for the Spirit of a Nation Cup had Kiwi Brendon Leitch on pole with USA pilot Santino Ferrucci alongside him.
In the drag race to turn one Leitch held his nerve and by the end of the first race had bounced out to a five-car lead.
Ferrucci pushed a bit too hard in an effort to close the gap, got a bit loose and dropped back into the clutches of Stroll.
Meanwhile, Leitch took advantage and built a solid 2.5 second lead he never looked like relinquishing. The Kiwi won from Ferrucci and Stroll.
“It was a fantastic race and the car was so good,” said Leitch. “I got a great start and held position down the inside to lead after the first corner.
“I kept pushing over the opening laps and managed to k the gap pretty consistent for the rest of the race. We went back to the qualifying setup and the car felt magic and I felt at one with it.
“I made a small mistake with five laps to go but calmed down and relaxed.
I’ll be making the trip up to Hampton Downs for the next round but after that I’m not too sure as funding is still a bit of an issue.
“Still, it’s good to know that I’m now in the fight for the championship,” said Leitch.
Consistency is the key to winning any championship, no matter what the discipline is.
Ferrari Development Academy driver Stroll is proving that staying out of trouble and staying on the black stuff will result in a points haul.
He has been the driver so far in the series that has regularly been inside the top five, and now leads the championship from Indian Arjun Maini and Leitch.
“Getting a haul today puts more points in the bag and I’m happy with that,” said Stroll.
“The team prepared a great car for me and I’m looking forward to the next race at Hampton Downs.”