Former Valvoline D1NZ National Drifting Championship title winner Darren Kelly has turned his first laps in a GT3 car, in the build up to next weeken’s opening round of the Carters Tyres South Island Endurance Series — his circuit racing debut.
Kelly will partner factory Aston Martin driver Alex Riberas in the latter’s The Heart of Racing Vantage AMR GT3. The pairing conducted a two-day test at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park this week, with Kelly praising the experience.
“It was a pretty amazing experience,” Kelly told VelocityNews. “The cars are mind-blowingly fast. I guess for me the biggest thing was the cornering speed and the braking. Not so much the top speed, but I guess we’re used to going fast as it is.”
Kelly was happy with how the test went, noting that the biggest thing to adapt to was the GT3’s turning and braking.
“There’s a lot of things that are different compared to drifting, but it went well,” he said. “I was pretty surprised. I was about a second off Alex, and he’s a factory-backed driver and has done this for a long time. I was kind of expecting more of a gap between the two of us.
“The areas where I can improve are trusting the car a bit more and finding the limit of the tyre. That’s something that’s a little different for me … the slick tyre, the cornering, trying to get the tyre to transfer the weight. Everyone’s pretty happy and they’re pretty happy with the lap-times as they are, but for me it’s about where we can improve.”
Over the course of the two days, Kelly completed over 60 laps. This included one full length stint — a far cry from the at times 30-second drift runs he’s more accustomed to.
“A lot of people obviously think that you’re just sitting in a car turning a wheel and pushing some pedals, but it is very physically draining and that’s something I’ve anticipated with going to the gym and trying to get my fitness up.
“It’s like doing a different sport or riding a dirt bike, where you think you’re fit until you do it and you realise there’s all these muscles in your body that you’ve never used in your training. I didn’t feel fatigued in the car, but out of the car I definitely felt like the upper body has been working pretty hard.
Along with comparing his data to Riberas’ data, Kelly has also had remote assistance from four-time Bathurst 1000 champion Greg Murphy and current Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Shane van Gisbergen.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of guys. Greg Murphy … he’s had a lot to say about how these cars work and his experiences in motor racing. Shane van Gisbergen is a good mate, he’s driven these cars and he’s always got good information,” Kelly said.
“Just general discussions with those guys, and they all have the same thing to say. They see me getting comfortable relatively quickly, which seemed to be the case as soon as I jumped in the car.”
Round one of the South Island Endurance Series starts in Invercargill on September 12. The following weekend is the opening round of the North Island series, at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.
Round two and three of the South Island series follows on October 3 at Mike Pero Motorsport Park and October 17 in Timaru. Then the Aston, and others competing in both classes, will travel back north to Pukekohe on October 23–24.
The two categories then have a combined grand finale at Highlands Motorsport Park on November 6–7.