Motorsport stalwart John McIntyre admits the nationwide lockdowns across the past few months have actually galvanised spirits at Gilbertson JMR Racing, placing them in the most prepared state they have ever been ahead of the opening round of the South Island Endurance Series.
The three-time NZV8 champion has kept work on the teams monstrous 7.9-litre Chevrolet V8 powered Camaro appropriately dubbed ‘Hammer’ under wraps across the off-season. The team only got its first taste of testing at Ruapuna last month but won’t know the full extent of their work until the first race at Teretonga.
But despite the two lockdown periods between now and then, McIntyre insists his Gilbertson JMR team are riding a wave of freshly found confidence following some successful testing hit outs.
“Lockdown has been good for us,” McIntyre told Velocity News. “In fact, Covid has maybe helped us with the lead-in times for working and installing parts which we already had.
“We’ve also got on top of some engine and reliability issues that we had last year.
“Our major focus has been on reliability after we made big gains in race pace last year at Timaru. That round we made some changes and just found massive gains in performance but our reliability still wasn’t there.
“But we are heading into this season the most prepared we have ever been.”
Along with putting to bed all the niggling reliability woes, McIntyre also explained the extensive development done on Hammer which includes a revamped engine package.
“We’ve updated the engine, moving from an LS7 to an LSX cylinder head so there is now a full race-spec engine in there.
“Work has also been done to the induction and the gearbox is all different compared to last year. There have even been some adjustments made to the rear bodywork too to give it less drag. All together we have probably shed about 40kgs in weight.”
All these developments will no doubt place the Gilbertson JMR Camaro as a favourite for podium finishes and a serious contender for the championship crown.
But McIntyre insisted that it is too early to determine what they believe is a realistic result until after the first race, especially taking into the account the car struggled to crack the top-five after suffering a number of mechanical dramas last season.
“Look it is hard to tell until the first 3 Hour,” said McIntyre when asked what his expectations are of the season ahead.
“We will come in with an intention to win and having a winning mindset just because where have come from since last year. We have definitely improved.
“We are probably strong enough to challenge the GT3 cars like the [Heart of Racing] Aston Martin which we will probably be behind in qualifying but in the race we will be able to beat them.
“Though the Reid/Foster Audi LMS GT3 remains the benchmark for us and we will be doing our best to take the fight to them.”
McIntyre will once again be partnered with car owner Simon Gilbertson who spent the majority of time behind the wheel at a recent test from Ruapuna late last month to further improve his driving skills.
Gilbertson and McIntyre added the North Island Endurance Championship to their portfolios back in 2018 together in a Porsche 911 GT3 before turning their attention to the South Island championship.
Now, having matured through a full endurance season down south, McIntyre has nothing short of admiration for Gilbertson who has spent the last few months chipping away at improving his pace and staying on top of his fitness.
“[Simon] is great. His goal is always to be faster than the year before and he has constantly chipped away at that.
“Last year he had plenty of seat time in the new car and his speed since then has just gone up another notch.
“He is in great shape, really fit and he just feels more comfortable in the car.”
McIntyre did emphasis his ambitions at the moment revolve around the South Island series but if the performance is strong enough could consider a jump north in coming seasons.
This year’s South Island Endurance Series will be staged over three rounds kicking off from Teretonga Park on September 12 before races at Ruapuna and Levels Raceway on October 3 and 17 respectively.