After a remarkable battle to the flag, Aston Martin factory driver Alex Riberas and circuit-racing debutante Darren Kelly were able to claim victory in the opening round of the Carters Tyres South Island Endurance Series at Teretonga.
The Heart of Racing duo battled all race long with International Motorsport stablemates Jonny Reid and Neil Foster. Reid and Riberas engaged in close-quarters combat en route to the flag, with the race ultimately decided by just half a second.
It’s the first win for both drivers in New Zealand — Riberas having never competed in the country before, and D1NZ champion Kelly taking on grip racing for the first time. The podium was rounded out by Brendon Leitch and Christina-Orr West.
From pole, the International Motorsport Audi — Foster at the wheel — led the early laps at the head of a GT3 breakaway; the Leitch/Orr-West Dayle ITM Audi R8, THoR Aston Martin, and the SaReNi Camaro of John McIntyre in a tight battle pack.
Within the first 10 minutes the group was navigating traffic. Brendon Leitch and Christina Orr-West’s Audi (the latter at the helm) was first to peel out of the group after a close-fought opening phase for an unscheduled stop.
There were a handful of early retirements. These included the Hyundai i30 N TCR of Rhys Gould and Jaden Ransley, out with spark plug issues, and the Paul Rickerby and Graeme Rhodes Ford Falcon NZ SuperTourer, out with transmission failure.
Foster’s nearest rival, Darren Kelly, made two advances in the opening stint, the first coming 20 minutes into the race and then again another 20 minutes later. By this point the gap to the Camaro was over 20 seconds — the lack of a threat helping Kelly close the gap from over three seconds to a tense half second each time.
After an hour the gap had grown, but only to three seconds. The Camaro was 27 seconds behind, and the Dayle ITM Audi had fought back to fourth — albeit one lap down. Paul Kelly and Antony Leighs were best of the rest in their Porsche 911, another lap behind.
Eight minutes later the race had its first safety car. This prompted pit-stops and driver changes among the leaders, with the Aston Martin finally taking the race lead by virtue of a better pit-stop. The other big change was that the ITM Audi had claimed its lap back to be on the same lap as the leaders — but still over 30 seconds behind.
The Spaniard’s grasp on first didn’t last long. After a brief stanza of lowing their own respective fastest laps repeatedly, Reid was able to take the lead back at the 1hour 17minute mark — claiming the race’s fastest lap simultaneously. Reid wasn’t done, further lowering his fastest lap marker to 0:55.200 — quicker than the car’s best qualifying time — and then a 0:55.064 a few laps later. Riberas dipped into the 55s on the same lap, too, but by this point it was eight seconds behind and had McIntyre on its tail.
Such was Reid’s pace that by the halfway point he had caught up to the ITM Audi (who pitted not long afterwards). Unable to get by straight away, his 10-second margin to second had shrunk to just over six. Another two seconds separating the Riberas and McIntyre. The former NZV8 champion caught right up to the Aston Martin, only for his challenge to eventually fade. Mechanical issues eventually put paid to the Camaro challenge with the end in sight.
It looked like a relatively straightforward run to the flag would come, only for the lead to once again swap at the last pit-stop. Riberas hit the lead again with five seconds in hand, by virtue of a much quicker stop than Reid. This time, it wasn’t a simple case of Riberas being runned down by the former A1GP pilot. The IMSA regular put a few extra seconds on Reid, to lead into the final 20 minutes by seven seconds.
It set up an exciting run to the flag. Reid was a little bit quicker, slowly reeling in Riberas. With 10 minutes to go the gap was down to 4.6 seconds. On lap 175, Reid was able to snatch over a second on Riberas, bringing the gap down to 3.3 seconds. By the next lap it was 2.4 seconds, and with six minutes to go Reid was tucked under Riberas’ rear wing.
Riberas fought back as the last three minutes loomed. He was able to squeeze out a few tenths to extend his buffer to a second — each driver at this point setting times in the low 55-second range. The gap continued to fluctuate under a second, but Riberas was awake to every attack; winning the race by a mere 0.574. Leitch and Orr-West salvaged a podium after their flawed race — underlined by the pairing reportedly running out of fuel en route to their last pit-stop and briefly becoming stranded in pit-lane.
Having spent most of the race as the best non-GT3 car on track, Kelly and Leighs were able to claim fourth overall and a Class D victory in their Porsche 911. Scott O’Donnell and Martin Dippie (Porsche 911 GT3), and Barry Moore and Tim Mackersy (Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR) finished fifth and sixth — the latter securing honours in class B in edging the Audi RS3 LMS of Rowan Shephard and Lochalinn Fitzgerald-Symes by less than a second.
Some entries for the series will now prepare to ship their operations back north for round one of the Golden Homes North Island Endurance Series at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park next weekend, September 18–19. Those only entered in the southern series, meanwhile, will race again at Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch on October 3.