Mark Winterbottom’s stunning collapse at the Auckland 500 has given the V8 Supercars championship race a heartbeat.
As Jamie Whincup powered on to win Sunday’s race, series leader Winterbottom would regret a spin-out on lap two that sent him to the back of the field.
With replays unable to determine the source of the incident, stewards will conduct a post-race investigation but the impact on the title race was clear from the result.
Craig Lowndes’ surge through the field to finish second – Red Bull’s first one-two result since Symmons Plains eight months ago – and David Reynolds’ fourth place result trims the margins in the title race considerably.
Winterbottom recovered well to finish 11th, while Scott Pye took his first-ever podium by claiming third at Pukekohe.
The career Ford man remains championship leader, with a gap of 239 points to second-placed Reynolds and 240 to Lowndes in third.
While Winterbottom, chasing a maiden title, is still in control of the championship chase, this is the third straight meet where he’s seen his lead diminish.
Whincup never lost control of Sunday’s 200km race after jumping home track-hero and polesitter Scott McLaughlin off the grid.
The defending champion produced a relentless charge to victory, sealing the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy as the highest pointscorer at Pukekohe, in front of a bumper crowd of 116,554 across the weekend.
Nick Percat’s retirement on lap six brought a safety car and set the cat amongst the pigeons.
Every car in the race made one of their mandatory stops at the same time, bringing pit lane chaos and double stacking.
While Winterbottom, who sat last, was able to jump a handful of positions, the field shuffled positions and Lowndes’ garage engineered the day’s best strategic play.
The 41-year-old took on extra fuel during the stop, allowing him to jump a clutch of drivers during the mandatory second stop and power to second place from 10th on the grid.
There was drama between the Holden Racing Team pair of Garth Tander and James Courtney late in the race, colliding during Tander’s overtaking move on Cameron Waters.
The first New Zealander across the line at their local race was McLaughlin, who finished sixth, with Fabian Coulthard seventh and Shane Van Gisbergen ninth.
V8 SUPERCARS: RACE 30 RESULTS 1. Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2. Craig Lowndes (Holden)
3. Scott Pye (Ford)
4. David Reynolds (Ford)