IF TFM CAN KEEP ITS FERRARI ON THE TRACK, IT WILL SHAKE UP ENDURO SERIES, WRITES COLIN SMITH
KIWI Ferrari team Trass Family Motorsport is looking to bring some of its front-running pace from the Australian GT scene to the final round of the Mahindra North Island Endurance Series at Pukekohe on Saturday.
Jono Lester and Graeme Smyth are campaigning TFM’s older Ferrari 430 GT3 in the local series of three-hour races — alongside an Australian programme with the latest 458 GT3 which has seen Lester achieve three consecutive pole positions.
TFM also qualified on pole for the opening North Island enduro at Taupo and were leading as the 30-minute mark loomed.
A main seal failure saw the 430 GT3 leaking oil, which then made its way into the clutch, causing a serious clutch slippage, trouble engaging gears and retirement.
“Hampton Downs [round two last month] was even worse with more gearbox issues,” says Lester.
“We retired the car without completing a lap. It was a weekend to forget.
“We’ve been over the car with a fine-tooth comb and had a run at Pukekohe last Thursday.
“It ran without fault for an hour so hopefully that bodes well for a top finish in the three-hour.”
Ferrari racers Graeme Smyth (left) and Jono Lester.Picture / Alvin Lai
Lester says the challenge has been learning a car that has had a hard racing life.
“It’s done a heck of a lot of racing in Brazil and we’ve been learning as we go about the little things that fail on these older cars,” he says.
“It’s a 10-year-old car so we can’t expect it to run with the consistency of our 458 in Australia.
“We are looking for a good result to emulate the potential we are showing on the international stage.
“We are the team of note in Australian GT at the moment and I’d like to think we can get a result at Puke this weekend.”
Last week’s test gave Lester a chance to re-familiarise with the old Pukekohe track layout.
The series finale is using the full back straight configuration — bypassing the right-left-right complex instigated for V8 Supercars.
“We are racing with the old, fast back straight,” says Lester.
“I don’t think there is one person who is unhappy about that.
“It’s going to be awesome to be hammering down there at top speed and having some heavy braking.”
The Tulloch Motorsport Chevrolet Camaro GT3 crew of Inky Tulloch and John McIntyre.Picture / Colin Smith
Along with the Ferrari team, the recent arrival of two Audi R8 LMS GT3 cars and Tulloch Motorsport’s brutal Chevrolet Camaro GT3 has brought greater attention to the winter endurance series.
Lester thinks the presence of GT3-spec machinery in local racing will increase.
“I’m biased because GT racing and endurance racing is what I do. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this to hit New Zealand shores,” he says.
“The series has got something for everyone: different types of cars, many classes and big grids as well — which we haven’t seen for a while.
“There is genuine interest in endurance racing in New Zealand and it has probably got more of a foundation in our motor racing history than people give it credit for when you look at our successes at Le Mans in the past and now more recently with Earl [Bamber] and co.”
Lester’s TFM team-mate is Graeme Smyth, who comes to car racing with a background as one of New Zealand’s leading “shifter” kart racers.
“He was chosen for a reason,” says Lester.
“We’ve got our hands on a guy who flies under the radar. He’s cool, calm and collected and doesn’t make mistakes.
“We gel together as team-mates and as friends.”
While out of the running for the series honours following those Taupo and Hampton Downs issues, the Ferrari squad could influence the outcome in a close-fought series.
The Camaro crew of Inky Tulloch and John McIntyre lead the series after a second place effort at Taupo and victory at Hampton Downs.
Taupo winners John De Veth and Glenn Smith (Holden Commodore SuperTourer) followed up with a third placing at Hampton Downs — leaving them just seven points behind Tulloch and McIntyre.
With wins at both Taupo and Hampton Downs the leader of the one-hour race series is Porsche racer Ian Hayr (190 points) from Sam Fillmore (Porsche, 161).
Saturday’s one-hour race will start at 11.15am with the three-hour start scheduled for 1.25pm.