New Audi, same ethos
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New Zealand’s contingent of GT3-specification sports cars is set to increase by one with championship-winning team Smeg Racing’s latest addition; a current-spec Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
Launched earlier this week, the car will compete in the New Zealand Endurance Championship finale in Christchurch, before taking on the Eneos North Island Endurance Championship, and both New Zealand rounds of the Australian GT Endurance Championship.
From there the team is planning for a full-on attack of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, with team owner Owen Evans — father of racers Simon and Mitch Evans — hoping to shoot for outright glory.
“It happened just before Christmas, to be honest with you. We looked at different options
of maybe going into a GT car,
and then a couple of investors came along and said, ‘We’d buy a car,’ and the deal was done. It happened that
quickly,” said Evans.
For the domestic 2017 season, the Audi will be driven by former NZ SuperTourer and BNT NZ Touring Car Champion Simon Evans and the experienced and versatile Gene Rollinson.
However, a tilt at the Bathurst 12 Hour is likely to see a revised driver line-up featuring some of New Zealand’s biggest names in motorsport.
“To be there, with an all-black car with the silver fern on the roof, the team all in black overalls, and three Kiwi drivers — but all three [have] to be good drivers. I don’t want paid drivers, I want top drivers that we end up paying — to do it properly,” said Evans.
“I’ve already spoken to a couple of drivers who are in our sights — it’s not too hard to guess who they would be.
"We don’t know if we can get Mitch [Evans] down for it, since he’s got the deal with Jaguar, so it’s probably not possible. But obviously Simon will be in the seat with two top drivers.”
Simon Evans and Rollinson have competed in the North Island Endurance Series before, but in the team’s very different SuperTourer-chassis Holden VE Commodore as well as in a Mosler MT900R.
Photo / Matthew Hansen
For Evans, valuable miles at the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this month in a similar Audi R8, as well as the assistance of noted team members such as former McLaren F1 engineer Stephen Giles, place him and Rollinson in good stead for both domestic titles.
“I would've liked to have been a little bit quicker [at Bathurst] but we were plagued by a brake problem all weekend in the car, I didn't want to push extra hard and make a mistake,” he said.
“It was just about getting seat time in the car. I had a couple of good stints in there and nearly used up all my time allocation. In those terms, it was nice to get a decent run in the car.
“At Bathurst, I'd only been to that track once before and it's pretty daunting across the top especially in an aero car. So coming here, being on tracks that I know, I'm looking forward to pushing that car that extra little bit.
“We're gunning to hopefully give this New Zealand Championship a decent shot.”
While wins on a domestic level are the team’s short-term goal, the long-term goal is to represent New Zealand motorsport on the Australian stage through that country’s growing GT scene.
However the team couldn’t commit to racing in the category at this early stage.
Photo / Matthew Hansen
“I would love to have a racing car in the Australian GT Championship. But it all boils down to money,” said Evans.
“Australia has lots and lots of wealth, and we just don't have that in New Zealand. I'd love to go and do it, but I can't write cheques — that's not me.
"[But it] might lead on to people being involved that could open the doors for sponsorship for the AGT.”
It isn’t the first time that a group of New Zealanders have taken on premier Australian motorsport, with Team Kiwi Racing and more recently Super Black Racing both fighting in the Supercars Championship.
But Owen Evans has different ideas for Smeg Racing’s future.
He said TKR and SBR waved the flag for New Zealand, “but they had different dreams”.
“Whilst I applaud what they did, they didn’t attack it in the way that I want to attack it. I like the idea of the A1GP team — we were very successful in that.
“I think that’s the difference in what I’m aiming for.
“We’re just following in the footsteps of what’s happening around the rest of the world. Blancpain series, LMP1, LMP2, LMP3, and GT3; it's a big thing around the world, and it opens so many doors.”
The new Audi’s debut performance at the New Zealand Endurance Championship finale takes place in three weeks at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, with the three-round Eneos North Island Endurance Series in May.