Paul Pedersen, Ant Pedersen and Marco Giltrap have overcome early issues with a rear wheel to drive to a thrilling victory in today’s Highlands 10th Anniversary 6-Hour Enduro in the #96 Mercedes AMG GT3 Evo.
After six hours of racing with only one Safety Car intervention, just 5.54 seconds separated the top three at the chequered flag, with Andrew Waite bringing the #888 Audi R8 GT3 Evo II shared between himself, Steve Brooks and Bill Riding in second, less than a second behind the winners.
New Zealand Endurance Champions Jonny Reid and Sam Fillmore completed the podium in their #27 Audi R8 GT3 Evo II, jumping onto the back of a battle pack for the lead with 40 minutes remaining in an enthralling four-car showdown for race honours.
Shane van Gisbergen had led the queue in the Brabham BT62 on older tyres and fought relentlessly for the win with a 5-second post-race penalty looming for a track limits violation incurred hours earlier. He would ultimately drop off the pace, with Pedersen, Waite and Reid all working through in quick succession as the four-car battle reduced to three.
The issues suffered by the Brabham in the past two seasons of the South Island Endurance Series were almost a distant memory, with Dwayne Carter and van Gisbergen finishing as the last car on the lead lap, in fourth, 35 seconds off the pace.
Through a significant buildup and plenty of anticipation, it’s fair to say the Highlands 6-Hour didn’t disappoint, and the fact that the father-son duo of Paul Pedersen and Mark Pedersen and star callup Giltrap were in contention come the final laps was no small feat.
Two hours in, the trio were a lap off the pace after a loose rear forced Paul Pedersen for a second tour of the lane following his first stop. He recovered to hand over to Giltrap, who put in a superb second stint to bring the team back into contention before handing over to Ant Pedersen to bring the race home.
It was during the fourth hour when he hit the front, where he remained before the final cycle of stops played out. He was the first of the lead five to come in and was quickly followed by van Gisbergen laps later, with Waite, Reid and Damon Leitch remaining out.
Van Gisbergen was quick onto the rear of the Mercedes, where he remained when the race’s sole Safety Car was called, amazingly after over five hours of racing when North Island Endurance Series 1-Hour Champion Luke Manson ran into a gravel trap.
Reid and Damon Leitch had come in for their stop, and Waite was in the lane when the caution was called, almost losing a lap as the Safety Car waited to pick up the leader before being waved through and rejoining the queue.
Damon Leitch, Glenn Smith and John De Veth were dealt a cruel blow entering the final hour after their final stop, with suspension damage forcing the McLaren 650s to the lane and eliminating them from contention as the caution was called.
The trio had led early and were in contention for overall honours but lost 13 laps replacing a rear damper and were eventually classified 12th.
Pedersen would control the restart, but van Gisbergen hit the front shortly after, remaining at the front of the queue but with Pedersen, Waite and Reid on his tail.
Less than 20 minutes remained when the Mercedes hit the front, as the Brabham dropped to fourth behind those on fresher tyres.
With clear air, Pedersen was able to fend off Waite’s late challenge, with Reid slowly slipping back and forced to settle for third.
Brendon Leitch, Christina Orr-West and Tim Miles finished fifth in the Dayle ITM Lamborghini Huracan, which lost ground when it went into limp mode when Leitch took the wheel after 90 minutes and was forced to complete a lap at low speed before returning to the lane for a sensor reset.
To compound matters, Leitch was also ironically slapped with a pit drive-through penalty for speeding in the lane, losing further ground.
Late battles with van Gisbergen and Pedersen showed that the Huracan had the pace to match the leaders, had fortune fallen in its favour, and Leitch was able to recover a lap to only finish one lap off the pace.
The all-Am Mercedes AMG GT3 entry of Sergio Pires and Marcel Zalloua finished sixth, having been overtaken by Leitch late in the race.
Super2 race winner Ryan Wood brought the #912 Porsche 992 Cup shared with Scott O’Donnell and Allan Dippie home as the first of the Porsche Class, in seventh overall and one spot ahead of the 991 MR of Jono Lester, Heremana Malmezac and Francois Beziac.
Lester had led the race early, overtaking Paul Pedersen and Glenn Smith in the opening hour and pulling to a lead of over 20 seconds. Loose bodywork rubbing on a wheel saw the team forced to make an unscheduled stop, which saw them lose ground on the field.
Ninth home was the third of the Porsche Class entries, shared between Martin Dippie, Ronan Murphy and rally star Hayden Paddon. The latter ran a solid middle stint and once again proved his versatility.
Despite his late off, Manson brought home the #222 Porsche 992 shared with Dan Gaunt and James Penrose home for tenth and fourth in class, nine laps behind the leaders and two behind Murphy.
Tracktec Racing’s Steve Scholes, Paul Blomqvist and Rowan Shepherd were victors of the GT4 Class in the Ginetta G56, finishing 11th overall after completing 208 laps.
It was fitting that Highlands owner Tony Quinn featured on the podium, with the Porsche Cayman shared between himself, Grandson Ryder Quinn and Porsche Carrera Cup star Courtney Prince, finishing second in the GT4 class and 14th overall.
The Mercedes AMG GT3 of Justin McMillan, Glen Wood and Garth Walden was another front-runner forced from the race early, with floor damage seeing the team returning to the garage for extensive repairs. The team had been the first out of the pit lane following the 250-metre Le Mans-style start, followed by Smith. They were classified 13th, losing 16 laps while in for repairs.
The GT4 podium was completed by the Mercedes AMG GT4 of Glen Cotterill, Sam Cotterill and Maurice Shapley, who completed 199 laps for 15th overall.
The sole TCR in the field, an Audi RS3 LMS TCR of Matt O’Donnell, Clay Richards and Blake Knowles, ran a commendable 186 laps for 19th.
The race’s sole retirement was the Mercedes AMG GT3 of Paul Lucchitti and Luke Youlden, with the team suffering an early mechanical failure and completing just 13 laps.
Header Image: Mark Petch