John McIntyre of Upper Moutere, Nelson, and Simon Ellingham, of Napier, drove a well-judged race to take the honours in the opening round of the ASKO Endurance Three Hour Series at Teretonga Park, near Invercargill, on Saturday.
McIntyre put their Porsche 997 GT3 on pole position and set a hot pace over the opening laps before taking advantage of an early safety car to pit and hand over to Ellingham. The less experienced Ellingham kept the car well in contention before three-time NZV8 Champion McIntyre took the final stint.
McIntyre passed last year's winners Paul Kelly (Christchurch) and Daniel Gaunt (Melbourne) with 15 minutes remaining to bring the car home ahead of the Kelly/Gaunt Porsche. Matt and Dwayne Carter, of Auckland, brought their BA Falcon V8 Supercar home third, despite a late pit stop because of a puncture, after a fine drive.
Angus McFarlane/Michael Bushell, of Christchurch, finished fourth in their GT3 Cup R after leading for a prolonged period of the race. A spin after Bushell got onto the "marbles" while rounding a slower car cost them dearly. Fifth were Rick Armstrong and Jonny Reid, who dropped out of second place late in the race when Reid pitted after front-end damage from the opening stint came back to haunt the team.
"We ended up having four stops," former New Zealand A1GP driver Reid said. "After three stops, we were still on the lead lap. Rick drove like a champion."
Christchurch pair George McFarlane and Grant Silvester secured sixth in another Porsche.
McIntyre praised crew chief Richard Lester and his partner Ellingham at the conclusion of the race.
"Richard made a brilliant call to bring us in under the safety car and put Simon in. Simon did a good job. He has done very little racing. We had good pit stops and kept out of trouble, which is hard, but the small cars make the series and it is really entertaining."
Looking back at his pace in the first stint, McIntyre said: "I haven't driven one of these cars for a long time and I didn't know how hard to push. I was badly balked at one stage. Over the last 10 laps, I had a buildup on my front left tyre and I wasn't sure whether it was delaminating or not."
Kelly and Gaunt had caught up a margin lost during a safety car period but, with Gaunt at the wheel near the end of the race, the telemetry was incorrectly telling him that the fuel burn was going to bring him up short. He pulled back at that stage, dropping to second.
The Ferrari 458 Challenge of Craig Innes (Mt Maunganui) and Sam MacNeill (Palmerston North) showed great early pace, chasing McIntyre very hard. However, problems with the right front tyre hampered the car.
"We changed a few" MacNeill said.
Later in the race, the Ferrari was pushed off the circuit in a coming together, ripping off the brake ducts, and later, MacNeill clipped someone.
Last year's second-place finisher Andrew Bagnall never made it to the end, either. With V8 Supercar star Alex Davison alongside this year, Bagnall lost two laps with a puncture and then a steering arm broke with Davison at the wheel.
Allan Dippie (Dunedin) and Scott O'Donnell (Invercargill) suffered suspension problems but charged back from 27th to 12th place at the chequered flag.
The top three overall placegetters took the class honours in the GT class, while Class 1 (3501cc & over) went to the 2011 class champions Paul Rickerby and Graeme Rhodes, of Christchurch, in their Mazda RX7 V8, which has undergone much development since last season. North Island trio David Dovey, Andrew Bowler andShane Wenslick were second in their Falcon, while Alexandra drivers Bruce Davidson and David Garden were third in the class in their new Chev Corvette C6R.
Davidson and Garden were running well inside the top 10 early in the race but lost time after a tangle that put them off the road and necessitated a safety car.
Aaron Harris (Hamilton) and Sam Fillmore (Auckland) took Class 2 (2001cc -3500cc) in one of the Seat Leon Supercopas ahead of Christchurch pair Richard Jones and Dean McGuigan (BMW M3) and the Toyota Sprinter AE86 turbo of Blenheim's Patrick & Ryan Heagney.
Class 3&4 (0-2000cc) went to the ex- Kiwi Team Nurburgring Honda Civic R of Paul Coghill andDavid Hunter, of Dunedin, while Jeff Vincent, of Invercargill, and Daniel Currie, of Ohoka, were second in their Civic ahead of the ever-reliable Peugeot 106 of Ken Sinclair and Dennis Ham, of Dunedin.
The series now moves to the Powerbuilt Tools International Raceway at Ruapuna Park near Christchurch on October 5, before rounds at Levels Raceway, Timaru, and the new Highlands Motorsport Park circuit in Cromwell, where the overall 3 Hour Series champion will be awarded the South Canterbury Toyota Cup.
The series is supported by naming sponsor ASKO Appliances along with series sponsors Mobil 1, Hagley Aluminium, Paul Kelly Motor Company and Southern Finance, thanks to whom there is a significant prizemoney pool of $30,000.
There is also a magnificent Norm Sinclair original painting valued at around $10,000 and a set of new Michelin tyres, which will both be given away as a spot prizes, and Vortex Racewear has also supported the series with two full race-gear kits, giving the series New Zealand's biggest prize and prizemoney package.
- © Fairfax NZ News