Former D1NZ Drift Champion Darren Kelly has confirmed he will contest this year’s Golden Homes North Island Endurance Championship and Carters Tyres South Island Endurance Championship in a 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Kelly will be sharing duties with Spanish Aston Martin factory driver Alex Riberas for both championships in the International Motorsport-prepared Vantage.
Fresh off of his 2020 D1NZ campaign which saw Kelly claim 10th in the Pro Championship standings, the Auckland-based drifter turned endurance racer will tackle his debut NIERDC season with The Heart of Racing (THoR) outfit which partners with the Starship Foundation to raise vital funds for New Zealand’s national children’s hospital.
“This is a great opportunity to compete in GT racing, alongside Alex,” said Kelly.
“As someone who spent a lot of time in paediatric hospitals growing up, the purpose of The Heart of Racing really resonates with me.”
THoR originally started in North America in 1996 to raise money for the Seattle Children’s hospital. It has since expanded into competing in premier GT races in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship and the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
“We are delighted to have the support of The Heart of Racing,” says Starship Foundation spokesperson Melanie Esplin.
“And, we are thrilled that going into the season, THoR has already raised $250,000 towards our National Children’s Intensive Care Unit to support the continued delivery of world-class care for critically sick and injured children from across the country.”
Hailing from Barcelona, 26-year-old Riberas has had a wealth of GT Endurance Racing experience with stints in the Intercontinental GT Challenge with Audi, Blancpain GT Sprint Series in Europe and, more recently, a one-off crack in the IMSA championship with a works Aston Martin squad in GT Daytona.
The Spaniard became close friends with Kelly after being standard in New Zealand during a holiday from his native Spain, and now aims to rub off some of that GT experience and knowledge onto his co-driver to quickly turn the champion drifter into a top-class GT3 racer.
“I’ve had a lot of fun learning drifting from Darren,” said Riberas.
“Now I get to show him the ropes of racing a GT3 car on a road course in these very competitive series.
“We got a lot of help from Aston Martin Racing to prepare a new race car and get it here in time for the beginning of the series.”
The pair will cut their first laps in anger at Teretonga Park on September 12 for the opening round of the South Island championship before a hasty dash north for the first round of NIERDC at Hampton Downs the following weekend.
The two categories will then have a combined grand finale at Highlands Motorsport Park on November 6–7.