Jamie Whincup cruised to a comfortable win ahead of Shane van Gisbergen in the first heat at Pukekohe.
Apart from a short red flag stoppage, it was a straightforward race for Whincup. He beat polesitter van Gisbergen off the line at the start, easily held him off on the restart after the red flag, and put in a flawless drive across the remaining of the single-stint sprint to beat his teammate by 6.5s.
“I got off the line well, the car was quick – obviously both cars are fast,” said Whincup. “We’ll keep tuning it up and make sure we keep moving forward as the races go on.”
Points leader van Gisbergen was a relatively lonely second, coming home a couple of seconds clear of fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin.
“It was a pretty good race. Jamie had awesome speed, I had nothing for him,” said van Gisbergen. “Second is alright on a tough race, but I’ll try and tune it up for this afternoon and get him back.”
Behind the Top 3, there was half a battle over fourth. Holden Racing Team driver Garth Tander spent the last 12 laps hurrying up Prodrive Racing’s Mark Winterbottom, the Ford driver holding on to the spot by less than a second.
Tander’s teammate James Courtney finished sixth, ahead of Nissan drivers Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso, Penske’s Scott Pye, and Tekno’s Will Davison.
Craig Lowndes, meanwhile, was one of the bigger movers, finishing 16th after starting way back in 21st.
Jason Bright’s race ended less than a lap, the Brad Jones Racing driver causing an early stoppage after a huge crash that blocked pit entry. Bright ended up wide after squabbling with Chris Pither through the final complex on the first lap, which resulted in high-speed contact with the wall and a blocked pit entry.
That meant the race was suspended for several minutes while the Commodore was recovered, with Pither slapped with a drive-through for his part in the incident.
The race was restarted behind the Safety Car before going green on Lap 6.