IT WAS A MASSIVE HIGH WINNING THE [AGT] CHAMPIONSHIP WITH TWO RACE WINS OUT OF TWO STARTS.
Today’s round of the Mahindra North Island Endurance Series will be bolstered by the inclusion of Australian Richard Muscat, who joins Trass Family Motorsport’s three-hour assault alongside Sam Fillmore.
For Muscat, New Zealand holds bittersweet memories. He last raced here in late 2014 at the Highlands 101. On the Saturday of the event, he experienced one of his career highs — winning a maiden Australian GT Championship (AGT) title.
But he couldn’t back up the success on Sunday, after running out of fuel on the final lap of the 101-lap endurance race while in the race lead; opening the door to Holden Racing Team star Garth Tander and co-driver Tony Quinn to win the event. However, Muscat didn’t dwell on that loss for long.
“To not bring it home sucked a bit, but it didn't affect me a great deal as back then that wasn't part of the championship,” he told Driven.
“It was a massive high winning the [AGT] championship with two race wins out of two starts. So going into Sunday the pressure was off, and I could enjoy the race more. And having [Craig] Baird as my co-driver, we definitely had a strong pairing.
“Obviously sometimes that's the way it goes, our pace was pretty good compared to Tander, and we were driving to a lap time. I remember we were struggling with some technical difficulties during the race, so we just had to deal with it.
“But you still want to win every race you drive in. It wasn't as bad as Toyota at Le Mans, put it that way!” Since his breakout AGT Championship win, Muscat has competed in a season of the Australian Porsche Carrera Cup — finishing sixth in the championship on his 2015 debut. He currently races with Garry Rogers Motorsport in the Dunlop Development Series, a category one step removed from the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, where the majority of Australia’s future touring-car stars get spotted.
“I feel we have had a lot of bad luck this year for one reason or another. Our pace is about top five, which is a positive. “Obviously these cars are the complete opposite to a GT3 car. So coming from GT3 to a V8 Supercar is massively different, but a challenge I am enjoying.
Muscat at the 2014 Highlands 101 on the final lap (above); Muscat stands atop the podium after winning the 2014 Australian GT Championship (below).
“I really love driving GT3 cars. It's amazing the difference between the manufacturers; the Ferrari is a lot different to the Mercedes, Porsche, and Lamborghini that I have been lucky enough to drive. The Ferrari has really good mid-corner rotation and a really good traction-control system, which should be good at Hampton.”
The drive at Trass Family Motorsport came about through a connection with TFM’s drivers Sam Fillmore and Danny Stutterd; Muscat having given both drivers coaching. More recently, he tested with them and their Ferrari at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo. Though he’s never raced at Hampton Downs, the 23-year-old has tested Fillmore and Stutterd’s Porsche Carrera Cup car there. With the Australian GT Championship touring the venue in late October, Muscat’s experience this weekend could make him a valuable co-driver signing for the meeting.
“I'm definitely up for a co-driver role at the two New Zealand Australian GT rounds. I think driving a GT3 car at Hampton Downs will be good, and also I won the round at Highlands Motorsport Park in 2014. So hopefully something will come up.
“I really like Hampton Downs. For such a small track it has a bit of everything.”
Muscat’s signing will help the TFM Ferrari bridge the gap to its main rivals; headed by the fellow GT3-spec campaigns of International Motorsport (Jonny Reid and Neil Foster’s Audi R8 LMS Ultra) and round-one winners Tulloch Motorsport (John McIntyre and Simon Gilbertson’s SaReNi Camaro).
It’s expected that more than 40 other cars will line up on the grid for the three hours, which is scheduled to take place later this afternoon following the curtain-raising one-hour event.