Multiple international champion and former Team New Zealand A1GP driver Chris van der Drift fired the opening shot in the first major practice session at the 66th New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs this afternoon.
He waited until the second half of the session before posting a flat 1 minute 31 second lap, which was enough to see him go fastest overall by just over a tenth of a second.
With most of the drivers opting to run on old tyres before changing to new rubber, the session provided the first glimpse of the likely pacesetters over the forthcoming Grand Prix weekend and there were one or two surprises in the top ten. The top 13 runners were also covered by less than a second, indicating the 66th New Zealand Grand Prix is set to be an extremely competitive one.
Behind van der Drift in the iconic Tasman Motorsports Group liveried car, Brendon Leitch posted an impressive late time to go second, ahead of a hugely impressive newcomer Matthew Payne.
The 18 year old from Pukekohe has raced predominantly in karts apart from a couple of Formula Ford races to secure the required license to race in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series this year. He was quickly into his stride in the session and ended it with a great run on new tyres that saw him go third just two thousands of a second off Leitch.
André Heimgartner gradually built up speed through the session, climbing up the timesheets to end up a solid fourth. Tom Alexander went well to clock fifth fastest time, with another of the young guns Billy Frazer edging out Shane van Gisbergen by five thousandths of a second to claim sixth. Behind Shane in an impressive eighth making his single seater debut was Peter Vodanovich with Damon Leitch in ninth and Kaleb Ngatoa rounding out the top ten.
Greg Murphy continued to impress after going fastest in his practice session in the morning. He was in or around the top five throughout the afternoon session but was edged out in the final few minutes as the faster new tyre runs were completed. He still ended up an impressive 11th overall, just over six tenths of a second off the fastest time.
Behind Murphy, Daniel Gaunt was 12th fastest, with Conrad Clark in 13th, Joshua Bethune in 14th and Chris Vlok in 15th. Ken Smith – still recovering from a shoulder injury – limited his time on track and was 16th fastest. The legendary racer will start his 50th New Zealand Grand Prix on Sunday.
66th New Zealand Grand Prix – Practice 2
- Chris van der Drift
- Brendon Leitch
- Matthew Payne
- Andre Heimgartner
- Tom Alexander
- Billy Frazer
- Shane van Gisbergen
- Peter Vodanovich
- Damon Leitch
- Kaleb Ngatoa
- Greg Murphy
- Daniel Gaunt
- Conrad Clark
- Joshua Bethune
- Chris Vlok
- Ken Smith