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Apr 25, 2014 - 06:17 AM
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Bright Start To Defence Of Jason Richards Trophy At Itm 500 Auckland
Posted by: newsla on Apr 25, 2014 - 06:15 AM
Sports Cars
Bright Start To Defence Of Jason Richards Trophy At Itm 500 Auckland

Jason Bright came to New Zealand with only one goal in mind - to defend the Jason Richards Trophy.


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Having won the very first Jason Richards Trophy in honour of the late Kiwi driver this time last year, Bright started the defence in the first of four races at the ITM 500 this Anzac weekend.

He benefitted from race leader Jamie Whincup surrendering his lead mid-way through the safety-car reduced 33-lap Friday race to come home relatively comfortably from young Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen and Championship leader Craig Lowndes.

Bright was best mates and team-mate of Richards at the Brad Jones Racing Team before the affable Kiwi was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2010. Richards ultimately lost a brave battle, but never his infectious, trademark smile, a year later.

It left the very close knit BJR team, a team that his father Dave also worked with for many years, shattered. The Jason Richards Trophy was introduced for the New Zealand event when it moved to Pukekohe last year, Richards' favourite New Zealand track.

Bright won the Trophy on accumulated points last year and in emotional scenes following when he accepted the Trophy from the late Richards' wife Charlotte.

While this is the perfect start Bright is determined not to get ahead of himself.

"It was a special day for two reasons," Bright said.

"You know, the ANZAC day and remembering JR this weekend, and last year was very special. When we knew that the trophy was going to be named after him, we wanted to come here and win it.

"Everyone in the team wanted to win it. We wanted to make sure one of our cars brought it home and we were fortunate enough to do it.

"Coming here, this year, probably a little bit of pressure off because the first one is so special but we still want it to come back to Albury, that's for sure."

Whincup cleared out from the start, pushing his Holden Commodore through the opening laps while the field battled well behind. He left ARMOR ALL Pole sitter Bright in his wake with Van Gisbergen and Lowndes in their own mini-dual.

Local hero Scott McLaughlin had a poor start and was swamped early, losing multiple spots. Van Gisbergen made the most of a Lowndes' error at the final turn onto the straight, getting underneath the Championship leader who went wide onto the grass.

Having appeared comfortably in control Whincup appeared to have some sort of steering issue on lap 12, leaving the track and shuffling back through the field at rapid pace. He came into the pits straight away and returned eight laps later.

That left Bright in the lead to manage a gap from Van Gisbergen who had built a gap to Lowndes who then found James Courtney hot on his tail.

"Jamie looked like he was really struggling, he sort of gapped me on the first lap and we were back on him straight away," Bright said.

"It looked like he was really struggling with the rear which I felt like, you know, if we just gave it time, he was going to be struggling more and more so, and then when we was sort of out of the way I just wanted to make sure I maintain the gap to Shane."

Disaster struck for a speedy Mark Winterbottom in qualifying when he hit the grass on the final turn, just avoiding the outside fence. When he re-joined he spun out of control on the front straight after crashing through two trackside signs.

Somehow Winterbottom escaped a major accident but not damage to the car. He was forced into the pits with what appeared to be a broken tail-shaft but his team was able to get him back out. But it left him down the order in qualifying tenth.

Plenty of battles emerged throughout the field - the Kiwi versus Aussie fire alive as Scott McLaughlin and Garth Tander fought in the top 10.

Yellow flags interrupted the race as David Wall's Falcon ploughed into the concrete at turn 10 after contact with fellow Ford driver Chaz Mostert. The incident will be investigated post-race.

But it was Bright who banked the 75 points, which has pushed him into 10th in the Championship.

Courtney, Will Davison, Nick Percat, Fabian Coulthard, McLaughlin, Tander and James Moffat completed the top 10.

There are two 100km races tomorrow afternoon preceded by dual qualifying session followed by a Sunday qualifier and the longest - 200km - race to be held at the track.

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