van Gisbergen wins, Trass Ferrari on the pace, in dramatic Highlands Australian GT finale
New Zealanders Shane van Gisbergen, Jono Lester, Graeme Smyth, and Craig Baird have all struck Saturday success on day two of the Highlands 101 weekend — van Gisbergen claiming race-one honours alongside co-driver Klark Quinn, son of Tony Quinn.
van Gisbergen and Quinn were able to win race one after fighting off a determined drive from the Lester/Smyth Ferrari 458 GT3. They had dominated the opening segment of the one-hour race, only for Lester and Smyth in their Trass Family Motorsport Ferrari to take over the lead of the race after an opportune caution period came as their pit stop loomed.
What assisted both combinations was a crash that claimed two of the leading Audi R8s — the Jamec PEM Steven McLaughlan/Christopher Haase and Swirk Nathan Antunes/Rod Salmon examples both sidelined after coming together after the turn two 'bus stop' at the end of the front straight. Both cars were critically damaged; Antunes pulling out of the final race of the championship, and McLaughlan only able to muster a single lap in the second race before also retiring.
Climbing aboard the Ferrari after a solid opening stint from Smyth, Lester was able to snatch the lead of the race. However van Gisbergen ultimately ran down the second-generation racer to take the win. The Erebus AMG Mercedes SLS shared between Max Twigg and Shae Davies finished in third.
After a rough race one, Morgan Haber (pictured) had a much improved race two. Photo / Velocity NZ
With a slightly depleted field on track, race two hotted up when a safety car was declared with 12 minutes remaining. Former NZ SuperTourer driver Morgan Haber held the lead in the second Erebus Motorsport AMG Mercedes SLS, with Justin McMillan (Lamborghini) and Ryan Miller (Audi) completing the top three.
But their hold on the top positions looked short-lived — several faster cars, including Klark Quinn and Smyth, now tacked onto their tail.
Smyth and fellow Kiwi Craig Baird were the two main beneficiaries as the race restarted, Smyth vaulting to fourth position while Baird had planted the STM Porsche 911 GT3 RSR he shared with Scott Taylor into third.
A late-race penalty for the second-placed Ryan Miller further promoted Baird and Smyth — now sitting second and third in the final minutes.
But despite an aggressive set of final laps, neither driver could take away the lead from Haber in the final laps, he and co-driver Jack LeBroq taking the win ahead of Baird/Taylor and Lester/Smyth.
With Antunes' weekend shot with issues, his charge for the Australian GT championship crown ended. Germany's Christopher Mies would win the prize in his place after his fourth-place finish in race one.
Teams will now prepare themselves and their cars for tomorrow's Highlands 101 enduro, scheduled to kick off at 1.20pm tomorrow afternoon.
1. Klark Quinn/Shane van Gisbergen (McLaren 650S) 2. Jono Lester/Graeme Smyth (Ferrari 458) 3. Max Twigg/Shae Davies (Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS) 4. Christopher Mies/Ryan Miller (Audi R8) 5. Tony Quinn/Garth Tander (McLaren)
1. Morgan Haber/Jack LeBroq (Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS) 2. Craig Baird/Scott Taylor (Porsche 911 GT3 RSR) 3. Jono Lester/Graeme Smyth (Ferrari 458) 4. Klark Quinn/Shane van Gisbergen (McLaren 650S) 5. Tony D'Alberto/Grant Denyer (Ferrari 458)