Kiwi's show the way in Australian V8 Ute International opener

The weekend action at the circuit located near Palmerston North became heated with high temperatures, fine weather and a large crowd adding to day's qualifying and two V8 ute races. Settling in after two days of testing at a track never visited by the Australian utes, the drivers all voiced unanimous opinion that there was no 'home advantage' by local Kiwi's come this morning's qualifying sessions. Split in to the two mixed Australian/New Zealand fields, it was Jason Richards and Chris Pither (both Kiwi's) who set fastest time in each session. With the first ever race under scorching sun; the opening race was a start-to-finish affair for Jason Richards (3N Holden) with the majority of the field careful about getting through the 8-lap race unscathed. In recording the first ever ute win at Manfeild, Richards commented the opening race win came six years after his last visit to the circuit - a winning result back then. "It's good.? Nice to stand back on top of the podium," said Richards. "It was a good race car but took a couple of laps to come on too, so I took a lot of pressure in the opening laps from James (Brock) and Charlie (Kovacs).? But once the tyre pressure came up and settled down I got in to the groove; worked out the differences in the handling of the car and kept it so I didn't push the tyres too hard as they've got a lot of work to do for the rest of the weekend." Richards chalked up a victory margin of 1.884s over Kovacs (69a), with defending ute champion Damien White (1a) third. Race 2 started with action that excited the crowd who were egged on by the Australian race commentators. A number of cars started taking side-by-side lines through the corners - with inevitable panel rubbing consequences. Getting a stronger start than Pole Position sitter Chris Pither, Simon Wills became the second V8 Supercar driver to dominate the racing.? Getting a clear break on the rest of the field, Wills became the hunted when the Ford of Marcus Zukanovic (71a) put pressure on to hand the reins over. "It's great to be back on the top of the podium," said winner Simon Richards (69N).? "It's been a while since I've won races because V8 Supercars is tough, but equally this is pretty tough but the good thing is you are all in equal machinery. ?So I've really enjoyed it and can't wait for tomorrow now." Speaking of the battle with Marcus Zukanovic, Wills highlighted the encounter: "We knew Marcus would be strong at the start of the race, because he was running better tyres. ?I just wanted to stay out of trouble; saw him coming up and wanted to have a good race - that's what we got." Leading Ford and second placed Zukanovic (71a) said, "Kiwi's: I was surrounded by them." "It was a good race.? I had a good dice with Simon Wills for the lead until I flat-spotted (a tyre) trying to make a move on him.? That pretty much cost the performance of the car for the rest of the race so just had to nurse it home and keep on the back of Simon. ?Now I'm really looking forward to the next race - should be good." Embroiled in the biggest battle, Kiwi local Chris Pither had a battle to reclaim the positions lost:? "It was just crazy really, most of the time. ?I got hit continually in the first couple of laps - just look at the front of some of the cars." Mid-way through the race there was a continual half-lap of coming together with Jack Elsegood (11a), before Pither got the break. "The car wasn't right after about the third lap, I had a couple of big hits; the wheel alignment must be out, so third was definitely a good result considering" Elsegood was penalised which allowed the field to settle for the remaining laps to the chequered flag with Pither 7.794s behind the leading pair. Sunday (5th February) features a more intensive race programme, with a 10-lap race for each Australia/New Zealand paired field, followed by a 24-lap endurance that includes a compulsory driver change.  The ute category headlines the Super Trucks, OSCA's, Bridgestone Porsches, Super GT, Pro-7's and HQ Holden/Super Six race classes.  Results Race 2 (8-laps) NZ/Aus Team 2 drivers

  1. 69N Simon Wills (Holden)
  2. 71a Marcus Zukanovic (Ford) +0.759
  3. 41N Chris Pither (Holden) +8.553
  4. 18a Matt O'Grady (Holden) +9.434
  5. 3a Gary Baxter (Holden) +9.912
  6. 27N Rhys McKay (Holden) +10.368
  7. 40N Brady Kennett (Ford) +12.187
  8. 1N Dean Perkins (Ford) +13.968
  9. 22N Wade Henshaw (Holden) +14.830
  10. 7a Yanis Derums (Ford) +18.266
  11. 6a Ian McAlister (Ford) +23.208
  12. 99N Simon Bierne (Ford) +23.791
  13. 33N Grant Shivas (Holden) +27.152
  14. 88a James Bergmuller (Ford) +27.540
  15. 11a Jack Elsegood (Ford) +35.742
  16. 17N Shaun Richardson (Ford) +37.742
  17. 24N Boyd Norwood (Holden) +38.382
  18. 55a George Elliot (Holden) +2 laps

DNF 5a Adam Brand (Ford) DNF 10N Patrick Cronin (Ford) DNF 44a Greg Willis (Ford)