New look for Kiwi Audi, as Hampton Downs 500 approaches
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With just one week remaining before the first leg of the CAMS Australian GT Championship's New Zealand endurance tour, teams on both sides of the Tasman are either in their final preparation phases of or travelling to Waikato's Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.
New Zealand talent will be well represented on the driver's grid, with the likes of Shane van Gisbergen, Dominic Storey, Andrew Waite, and drifter 'Mad Mike' Whiddett expected to star at the pointy end of the exotic GT field.
But perhaps the biggest Kiwi contingent will be International Motorsport, which is fielding a three-car team of Audi R8 GT3s.
While its driver line-up is still to be finalised, the team has confirmed that its lead car — a new-generation Audi R8 LMS — will be piloted by international GT ace Matt Halliday and experienced campaigner Andrew Bagnall.
The pair approach next weekend fresh from a maiden victory at round two of the South Island Endurance Series in Christchurch, where they staged the Audi's competitive debut.
The car has since been stripped down and re-skinned with a wild new livery; Boltmasters coming on board as primary sponsors.
IMS regulars Jonny Reid and Neil Foster will pilot the next of their cars, with Jon Udy and an unconfirmed driver filling the seat in the team's third car.
"It's always a challenge running more than one car," said team manager Nick Williamson.
"At least they're the same brand. The new-generation LMS is considerably different, but we've done a few test days now and had a good run at Ruapuna. So we're on top of that one now, too."
For IMS, the weekend functions as part of its build-up towards a return to the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in 2018. Williamson notes that race miles are the best form of training as the team prepares to tackle one of the jewels in the Australasian motorsport crown.
"It's a different kettle of fish running against a whole lot of current-generation guys that are running in these cars all year round, coming into the middle of their championship," he said.
"It's not quite testing, because it's a race meeting, but it's still part of a longer-term goal.
"It's good to get amongst some of the guys that you're going to run against over there [at the 12 Hour]. It's just the next step in our programme heading towards Bathurst."
Hampton Downs is expected to confirm the grid for the race in the coming days, featuring a variety of new names and new cars.
Driven understands that Ferrari squad Maranello Motorsport has pulled out from the two New Zealand events, leaving Auckland's Graeme Smyth without a seat after almost stealing victory at last year's Hampton Downs epic.