Hamilton Motorsport was left over the moon with the debut performance of their Nissan GT-R GT3 in round one of the North Island Endurance Series, despite late dramas.
The team had a roller-coaster Sunday at Pukekohe Park, eventually coming home fifth overall with their drivers Chris van der Drift and Lance Hughes.
At one stage during the three-hour race, the team had a mammoth two-lap lead over the entire field.
However, an untimely safety car and a solid fightback from eventual winners The Heart of Racing saw the GT-R slip back to second.
Then, with a maiden podium in grasp, a rare mistake by van der Drift had him hit the tyre bundle at turn four with 30 minutes remaining.
The car quickly returned to the circuit, albeit now billowing smoke from a damaged front-right guard.
Two unscheduled pitstops to hastily repair the damage meant the team lost several laps and dropped back to fifth.
However, both Hughes and van der Drift were in high spirits after the race, buoyed by the strong performance of the GT-R.
“All we wanted was a top-five,” Hughes told Velocity News. “And we got that.
“I am just so happy with what we were able to do.
“We had no idea what to expect [from the weekend]. So, to be leading by two laps at one stage was incredible.
“The boys did a mega job.”
Van der Drift was equally thrilled with his day.
“[The day] really did go well,” he said.
“Yeah, it could have been a bit better, but just finishing is an achievement.
“Not only did we finish, but we were fast.
“We were only going to have a chance to win if something like the rain did happen. But we were consistent for the whole race and brought it home.”
Van der Drift’s large lead came from a wise strategy call to stay out on slick tyres during an intermittent rain shower in the first hour.
The rest of the field opted to pit for wet tyres, with van der Drift the only car in the GT-A class to push on with slicks.
“The rain was on-off,” van der Drift said.
“It wasn’t too bad on the dry [tyres]. I could still drive hard, and the track quickly up dried anyway.
“It was a good call and put us at a huge advantage.”
While van der Drift’s off-track excursion in the final half an hour then put paid to a likely podium, Hughes saw the lighter side of the drama.
“It’ll buff out,” Hughes laughed.
“We’ll get some parts we need and have it fixed in time for Hampton Downs, no worries.
“Hopefully, we will also be a bit closer to the front.”
The second round of the Golden Homes North Island Endurance Series will be at Hampton Downs on May 28-29.
Main Image: Matt Smith