International drivers Reid and Muscat duke for three-hour supremacy at Hampton Downs
Following a drawn-out battle for the lead in the final hour of the headlining three-hour event, International Motorsport's Jonny Reid and Neil Foster were able to defeat Trass Family Motorsport's Richard Muscat and Sam Fillmore at Hampton Downs; where the second round of the 2016 Mahindra North Island Endurance Series took place yesterday afternoon.
The narrow 1.8-second win was the first for the IMS Audi R8 GT3 LMS, though for the majority of the final half hour it appeared that the TFM Ferrari 458 GT3 had an edge.
“We knew that the Ferrari was going to be quick, and I didn't know whether the changes we had made were going to be good enough,” Reid told Driven.
Starting in treacherous wet conditions, the race was a stop-start affair thanks to a string of caution periods for various spins and beached cars.
Both SaReNi Camaro GT3s — Taupo winners John McIntyre and Simon Gilbertson, as well as reigning North Island champs Glen Smith and John DeVeth — were among those to suffer in the early phases of the race. A temperamental up-shifting issue slowed the McIntyre/Gilbertson charge, while several on-track incidents put Smith and DeVeth several laps down.
The issues of the Camaros left IMS and TFM to duke it out at the front of the field. Though Muscat and the Ferrari started the race from pole position, Muscat's desire to build a margin in the early laps kept being neutralized by both the thick presence of caution flags, as well as Neil Foster's rapid pace in the Audi.
“It was mentally tough because of all the restarts. I think we only got two or three laps at a time — build a bit of a gap, then next thing we're back under safety car mode,” said Foster.
“Neil did a fantastic job. At the start of the race his pace was fantastic. There were so many safety cars, but he kept his composure at the restarts and just drove it straight and did everything right,” added Reid.
The upper hand for TFM dimmed after a brief off from Fillmore just prior to the race's half-way mark, which lost them the lead to the IMS Audi. Though Fillmore, looking very comfortable in the 458, eventually took back the lead.
With both of their respective 'number one' drivers — Muscat and Reid — behind the wheel for the run to the flag, competition reached its willing peak with 30 minutes remaining on the clock. With Reid having closed down Muscat's meager margin, the pair began to swap the lead several times as they weaved through the traffic.
“I got touched a couple of times in those moves, but I just kept my composure — had a few words to my team and they calmed me back down again,” said Reid.
The Australian Muscat appeared to have Reid's measure as the time remaining ticked down to less than 10 minutes. But, an error from Muscat while trying to navigate a slower car through turn four gave Reid the ultimate opportunity.
“Richard [Muscat] did a great job, he was very hungry today. I was able to get him back just out of timing, being at the right place. He chose to go around the wet line around turn three and probably rushed it a little bit, whereas I probably wouldn't have got him if he had gone to the other side of the track,” said Reid.
“I went a bit aggressive around one lapped car, trying to run around the outside of him on the wet line — [Reid] had the dry line — then I lost the rear and had a massive moment, but kept it on the track. Jonny went past and that was it,” added Muscat in a later interview.
“[But] I've had a ball. Racing over here was pretty cool.”
It's the first time that Reid has tasted success in New Zealand since claiming the inaugural V8 SuperTourer Spint Series crown in 2012, but despite the win the former A1GP driver is still committed to his young family.
“My commitment is my family and my business in Auckland now. Motor racing is a bit of a hobby for me, it's something that I enjoy.
“I don't really see it as a career path at my age, but certainly I love this GT-style racing. And there's an opportunity to do more — other than my commitments that I have with Neil — certainly I'd look at that to keep sharp and keep fit.”
Behind Reid and Muscat, a race almost equally exciting had unfolded. After losing multiple laps due to their up-shift issues, John McIntyre spent the last 30 minutes slicing through the field — somehow regaining two laps on the leaders in the process with the assistance of the safety car.
He and co-driver Gilbertson eventually finished third, keeping their hopes of a maiden North Island Endurance Championship crown well and truly alive heading into the series finale at Manfeild Autocourse.
The returning Simon McLennan, partnered by Mitch Cunningham in the M2 Motorsport Holden VE Commodore SuperTourer claimed fourth despite being caught up in a lap-one skirmish with the Glen Smith Camaro. Callum Quin and John Penny rounded out the top five, also driving a Holden SuperTourer.
Further down the order, class-one honours were claimed by the Endless Nissan R35 GT-R of Tim Martin and Steve Farmer. The Johnstone/Johnstone Honda S2000 won class two, while fellow Honda drivers Shaun Morris and Richard Gee took class three in their Wattbike Civic EK9.
Derrin Greenslade and Justin Herbert rounded out the three-hour class winners in their giant-killing Honda CRX. Despite only utilizing a 1.6-litre engine, the humble Honda held down a spot in the overall top 10 on merit early in the race, among Carrera Cup Porsche's and various V8 touring cars.
Another of the giant killers was the newly built SsangYong Actyon 'super ute', driven by Deon Cooper and Alexandra Whitley. Fitted with a number of NZ SuperTourer components, and lowered, the unique looking racer finished 19th overall.
Earlier on in the day, Matt Whittaker and his Porsche 991 Carrera Cup car [pictured above] earned a second-straight win in the one-hour series — subsequently gifting International Motorsport with a sweep of the weekend's wins. Trass Family Motorsport were again second, this time with Elliot Andrew and their Ferrari F430 Challenge. Rhys Warren and Shaun Varney in the Sektor Porsche 911 completed the podium.
The final round of the Mahindra North Island Endurance Series takes place at Manfeild Autocourse on July 23.