Winner takes all at Manfeild enduro finale
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Camaro versus Ferrari versus Audi in classic endurance showdown
The final round of the Mahindra North Island Endurance Series takes place later today at Manfeild Autocourse, and the headline battle at the front of the three-hour grid is set to be one of the most exciting of 2016’s domestic motorsport calendar.
Three cars enter the event as key challengers to the crown; the International Motorsport Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Jonny Reid and Neil Foster, the SaReNi Camaro or John McIntyre and Simon Gilbertson, and the Trass Family Motorsport Ferrari 458 of Sam Fillmore and Danny Stutterd. The Audi and Camaro squads, winners of round one and round two respectively, are tied on 181 series points each, while the TFM Ferrari is just nine points adrift in third.
As it stands, whichever team scores the best result should also win the championship — though he TFM Ferrari needs to have more luck than the other two cars.
“It’s all about getting track position. If we’re lucky enough to get track position, our car will be the hardest one to pass out of the top three cars,” Camaro pilot John McIntyre said to Driven earlier this week.
“I think it’ll be quite even really, because what we’ll gain in a straight line the other cars will make back up in braking. I think if we had a dry track all day on Saturday that we’d have an advantage, [but] if it was teaming with rain we’d be at a slight disadvantage.”
Photo / Matthew Hansen
After having initial gremlins getting the German-built Camaro GT3 up to speed last year, then conquering those issues and winning the inaugural New Zealand Endurance Championship final in March, McIntyre and regular co-driver Ian ’Inky’ Tulloch approached the 2016 North Island Endurance Championship as debatable title favourites.
But a significant crash during a Teretonga club meeting hospitalized Tulloch and shook up the team’s campaign —Porsche driver Simon Gilbertson prompted to fill in for Tulloch as the team’s second driver.
“Not a lot of the guys in the team knew Simon [Gilbertson] at all, so that was quite a unique position for anyone to be put into. But he was chosen for a reason; that he would be able to handle that scenario, and so far he’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do. It’s been really really good to watch,” said McIntyre.
“I’ve known Simon for four years now — I’ve worked with him in his 997 Porsche doing driver training, and he was a customer when we had our base in Taupo — so I know him relatively well. He’s probably done the job that I hoped he would do, and probably even exceeded that.”
After winning a fog-effected opening round at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, technical dramas stunted McIntyre and Gilbertson at Hampton Downs — though they were still able to salvage a podium finish.
The other two major title contenders; International Motorsport's Audi R8 LMS Ultra GT3 and Trass Family Motorsport's Ferrari 458 GT3. Photo / Matthew Hansen
In only its third season, the North Island Endurance Series has attracted grids of more than 30 cars in its one and three–hour races, with just about every championship title over the multiple classes still to be decided.
“It’s a good sign. Obviously the organizers have gotten the mix right, and it’s working well. The quality of the teams, drivers, and cars keeps increasing each year,” said McIntyre.
Numerous other cars will be hoping to steal some glory off the dominant GT3-spec cars, including Craig Innes and Tim O’Conner in their Ferrari 458 Challenge, and the returning Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson — driving their improved Smeg Racing Holden Commodore NZ SuperTourer.
The one-hour race starts at 11.00am later today, with the three-hour following at 1.30pm.