Three hour endurance result hangs in the balance amid protest
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Winter motor racing can be unpredictable at the best of times. Saturday’s (almost) three-hour opener of the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series at Hampton Downs delivered a little of everything — fast-changing weather conditions, multiple lead changes, strategic intrigue and some controversy.
What the entertaining race didn’t have late on Saturday afternoon was a confirmed result.
Five different teams led the race and there were nine lead changes. Much of the shuffling came in the opening 20 minutes with teams guessing and second-guessing tyre choices following a rain shower just before the start. During the early laps an inspired tyre choice became a tactical miscue in the space of five minutes.
One team to play the long game was the Gilbertson JMR Porsche 911 MR of Simon Gilbertson and John McIntyre which had qualified fifth[pictured above], just off the dry weather pace of the full-house GT3 cars and Kiwi V8 specials.
While teams swapped tyres in the opening laps Gilbertson stayed out, trod carefully when he needed too, made time when he could and skilfully managed the Porsche up to second place as the rain came and went. That became the race lead when Chris Hanley had to stop with a flat left rear tyre on the leading Holden Commodore he was sharing with Simon Evans.
With 1 hour 25min completed there was a well-timed safety car and Gilbertson pitted from a lead of just over 20secs. After the pit-stop shuffle the race went green again with Evans in front having taken over the Commodore from Hanley.
With a dry line evolving Evans edged away. A quicker approach was shown by fourth-placed Commodore VZ Supercar of Nick Chester and Cameron Jones. They were the first of the quick cars to swap to slick tyres and immediately began lapping almost 5secs quicker than the leaders.
With just under 75 minutes remaining there was a safety car and the leaders dashed into the pits and made the switch to slick tyres.
The skies lightened and darkened but the rain stayed away and the track was close to dry with teams able to lap just a touch off qualifying pace. In these conditions Evans had a 1.5secs per lap performance advantage and twice built a comfortable lead only to have it reduced again by safety car interventions.
With 30 minutes left to run Evans led by 30secs from McIntyre with Chester and Jones just over a lap down in third place and battling with Brendon Leitch and Christina Orr-West in the ITM Mike Racing Mercedes SLS GT3.
The penultimate safety car came out with 19mins remaining and the restart came with McIntyre trailing by 3secs. But a look to the sky suggested the weather would have one more intervention.
Rain arrived with 13 minutes left on the clock and McIntyre made a dash for the pits and wet weather tyres. A lap later it was already torrential when Evans dived for the pitlane. It was scruffy stop that saw him overshoot on the wet concrete apron before the car was rolled back and wet tyres fitted.
McIntyre’s stop had been much quicker and put him into the lead. But there was chaos on-track with cars in the gravel traps at at least three corners. First the safety car was deployed and moments later the race was red-flagged with nine minutes remaining.
Then the confusion began. Initially the Gilbertson JMR Porsche was parked in the winner’s position having taken the chequered flag.
Provisional results posted at 134 laps showed Evans and Hanley ahead of the Porsche by a margin of 5.9secs. The Gilbertson JMR team immediately filed a protest based on the chequered flag being shown at 133 laps when they held a lead of 10.5secs and the timing data is to be officially reviewed this week.
Chester and Jones were one lap back in third while a late-race drive through penalty dropped Leitch and Orr-West a further lap down to take fourth. The Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Neil Foster and Jonny Reid had shot to an early lead then made two early pit stops and fell as deep as 16th place. They climbed back to finish fifth, three laps down on the winners while the SaReNi Camaro GT3 of Glenn Smith and John de Veth completed the top six.
Round two of the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series is at Pukekohe on Saturday June 16.
Provisional race results, overall top 10*
1. Simon Evans/Chris Hanley —134 laps
2. Simon Gilbertson/John McIntyre +5.912
3. Nick Chester/Cameron Jones + 1 lap
4. Brendon Leitch/Christina Orr-West + 2 laps
5. Neil Foster/Jonny Reid + 3 laps
6. Glenn Smith/John de Veth + 5 laps
7. Michael Neville/James Kutia + 6 laps
8. Simon Sceats/James Kirkpatrick + 6 laps
9. Hayden Johnston/Damon Jackson + 9 laps
10. Bryan Symes/Lochlan Fitzgerald/Symes + 13 laps