Almost 60 cars set for Hampton Downs endurance racing return
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Fifty-eight cars will line up at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park tomorrow for round one of the 2018 ENEOS North Island Endurance Series.
Split across separate one hour and three-hour grids, the fields see a continuation of the category’s strong reputation for wild variety — from top-flight international GT cars to snarling V8s and home-built passion projects.
The biggest changes to look out for this season come in the headlining three-hour race, where there has been much swapping and dropping since last year’s season.
Wet & Forget Racing will defend its title crown, but not with last year’s series-winning Audi R8 LMS GT3. Instead, it will pedal the highly modified GTB-class ex-V8 SuperTourers Holden VF Commodore it steered to victory in March’s national endurance championship finale. Simon Evans is back again to lead the charge, but this time he will be partnered by former Portergroup V8 Ute Series champion Chris Hanley.
Though the Holden will race under the GT-B class, its speed will be more than a match for the outright GT-A-class exotica. And the same can also be said for the Chesters Plumbing ex-V8 Supercars Holden Commodore, driven by Nick Chester and Cameron Jones.
Five cars line up in GT-A, with a pair of Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3s perhaps the biggest news in the category’s history.
The two cars are run by MIKE Racing; formerly a Malaysia-based GT team led by Mike Chua that has set up a base in New Zealand. Open-wheel aces past and present lead the squad, with Castrol Toyota Racing Series race winner Brendon Leitch lining up with SsangYong Race Series regular Christina Orr-West in the team’s ITM-backed entry. For Leitch it's a return to GT3-formula cars, while the weekend represents Orr-West's debut.
“It felt great out there, I dropped two seconds off my time from the last time I was here,” she said after today's practice run. “I’m really comfortable and the seat is great.”
“It was good to get a good number of laps in today,” added Leitch. “It’s pretty close up the front so it’ll just be about putting it all together tomorrow morning and trying to get it as far up the front as we can without taking too many risks.”
“Having traction control is a bit different, so I was having a bit of a fiddle with that as well and trying to see how the car reacts at the different levels. I think it’ll be a tight race up the front if it’s nice and dry. We’re ready to send it.”
Meanwhile, fellow Toyota Racing graduates Jack Milligan (reigning Toyota 86 Series champion) and Reid Harker (fresh from his TRS debut) will campaign the team’s second bright orange AMG SLS — having impressed during its “Young Driver Audition” last month at Manfeild.
Former series champions Jonny Reid and Neil Foster return once again with International Motorsport in their Audi R8 LMS Ultra GT3. Glenn Smith and John de Veth’s popular and brutish SaReNi Camaro GT3 and the Porsche 911 991 MR of Conal Dempsey and Andrew Fawcett complete the GT-A pack.
The growth of the three-hour GT-B class is rounded out by three new combinations; Hayden Johnston and Damon Jackson in their GVI McLaren 570S GT4, Todd Murphy and Andy Greenslade in the rarely seen Hyundai i45 “V8 SuperTourer”, and the Porsche 911 997 GT3 Cup of James Kutia and Michael Neville (a surname that should ring bells in New Zealand’s Porsche community).
Many more unique cars pad out the Class One, Class Two, and Class Three grids, with the same comments echoed in the one-hour grid where Grant Aitken’s Porsche Cayman GT4 and John Midgley’s Ford FG Falcon V8 SuperTourer line-up among the outright contenders.
The one-hour race starts at 11am today, while the three-hour race follows at 4pm.
Visit Driven.co.nz for live timing of tomorrow's racing.