The weekend’s winner-take-all New Zealand Endurance Championship finale pulled together some of the country’s quickest and most unique machinery for two final bust-ups — the One Hour and Three Hour — capping off a resurgent national enduro calendar in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The quickest entrants from the Golden Homes North Island Endurance Series and Carters Tyres South Island Endurance Series united at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, with numerous title winners confirmed across the board.
3 Hour overall winners / Class E winners
Alex Riberas / Darren Kelly, The Heart of Racing, Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT3
Given their exceptional form heading into the all-in finale, Riberas and Kelly were pre-race favourites. A seamless three hours saw them claim top honours, some 38-seconds up the road from year-long rivals Jonny Reid and Neil Foster.
While Riberas’ ability to learn the local tracks has been impressive, the bigger story here has been Kelly’s quick duck-to-water adaption to grip racing at a fairly high level — a very different kettle of fish compared to his standard fare as a frontrunner and former ‘DK’ in the D1NZ National Drifting Championship. Not only was he quite quick by the end, but he was also exceptionally consistent. This GT programme should not be a one-off.
North Island champions John De Veth and Glenn Smith will rue their weekend; mechanical gremlins in both of their McLaren 650 Ss forcing them to withdraw before the start. John McIntyre and Simon Gilbertson had hoped for a reprieve after their year of bad luck, until a mid-race clash with Lochlainn Fitzgerald-Symes’ Audi RS 3 LMS.
This left ‘best of the rest’ honours to be taken by Scott O’Donnell and Toyota Racing Series graduate Liam Lawson in their Audi R8 LMS. It was the latter’s tin-top racing debut — one which saw him recover from a pre-race qualifying shunt and pit-lane start to finish third with the fastest lap in hand.
3 Hour Class D winners (7th overall)
Lance Hughes / Simon Evans, Hamilton Asphalts, Holden VE Commodore
Lance Hughes has plenty of high quality endurance performances under his belt in his ex-NZ SuperTourer Holden VE Commodore. And drafting in recently crowned Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy champion Simon Evans made the combination a formidable one.
The V8 pairing were able to best the Porsche 991 911 Cup of proven campaigners Anthony Leighs and Paul Kelly. It was a tight duel, ultimately decided by just 11 seconds. The Mitre 10 Porsche 911 GT3 of Martin and Allan Dippie, meanwhile, had a largely clean and quiet race — rounding out the class podium while claiming ninth overall.
3 Hour Class B winners (10th overall)
Tim Moore / Tim Mackersy, M-Developments, Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
What on paper looked like the best race-within-a-race on the Three Hour grid ended up being a race of attrition, as numerous entries in the TCR-heavy Class B segment fell by the wayside. In the end the Liqui-Moly M-Developments Golf GTI of Moore and Mackersey were able to cruise to the win by four laps over the Hyundai i30 N of Hayden Paddon and Jordan Michels, the latter having lost several laps repairing the damage to their car after Paddon made contact with the tire bundle at turn two on the very first lap.
Fitzgerald-Symmes and Rowan Shephard’s RS 3 was down for the count following the aforementioned clash with Gilbertson’s Camaro, and the former race-leading Hyundai shared between Rhys Gould and Toyota 86 Series regular Jaden Ransley didn’t make the finish too thanks to a broken manifold.
Spare a thought for the Racer Products Hyundai TCR car of Gene Rollinson and Craig Innes, too. The pole-sitter Class B pairing lost the best part of a lap following a lap one, turn two, incident with rally driver Hayden Paddon, who later graciously apologised to both drivers. From there the pair were able to hoist themselves back onto contention for the Class B win only for a broken half shaft to put them out with 45 minutes to go.
For Moore and Mackersy, the win is just reward after they — like many others — had a rough run through the South Island Endurance Series. It’s their third Class B win in the last four attempts.
3 Hour Class C winners (14th overall)
Cameron Davies / Flynn Mitchell, White Horse Motors, Mazda RX-8 V8
One of the great ongoing stories of the day was the progress of the V8-powered Mazda RX-8 shared between Davies and Mitchell. Running smoothly, they finished a flying 14th — first in class and ahead of very impressive vehicles.
The pairing’s formerly rotary-powered Mazda was constructed during Covid-19 lockdown, and proved to be reliable enough to crush the three-hour slog. The pair enjoyed an entertaining race-long tussle with the somewhat mis-matched Ford Falcon of Grant Silvester and Dean Perkins — pipping them by 39 seconds.
The class looked like it would be Jono Lester and Dave Dovey’s to lose, following the rock solid North Islande campaign they had enjoyed with their cracking home-built Audi RS 5. But, while sitting sixth overall, the RS 5 got stuck in second gear early on, later retiring.
3 Hour Class A winners (19th overall)
Mark Taylor / Vaughan Moloney, King Street Cars/Kiwi Ice, Honda Integra Type R
Four cars took on Class A honours for cars with less than 2000ccs, with the trusty ‘DC2’ Integra of Taylor and Moloney collecting the win having completed 85 laps of the country’s longest circuit. This too was a race of attrition, with just two cars in class making it to the finish-line.
A special note of mention for the second-placed Peugeot 106 ‘Pugstang’ of Tim Stanton, Leyton Tremain, and The Fast Files host and producer Adam Jones. Having produced much of the country’s enduro coverage for most of the year, Jones stepped into the fold late as the team’s third driver. The trio were a sight to behold, with drivers taking on occasional wheel-changing and fuel-filling duties in pit-lane in between blasts from their dixie horn. They eventually finished one spot shy of victory in class, just 11-seconds adrift.
1 Hour overall winner / Class D winner
Marco Schelp, Knxtra New Zealand, Porsche 997 911 Cup S
While the Three Hour was an interesting race in its own right, the curtain-raising One Hour featured one of the greatest finishes in the history of the series.
Marco Schelp and Matt Whittaker battled all race long in their similar Porsche 911s (Whittaker’s a 991-generation Cup car). The duo swapped the race lead all race, even pitting at the same time in dramatic fashion. It all came down to a late-race safety car restart and subsequent one-lap dash; an assault from Whittaker at turn one not enough for Schelp to let go of a memorable title win — just three tenths of a second separating them.
1 Hour Class C winners (3rd overall)
Sam Collins / Nick Ross, Collins & Sons Motorsport, Ford Mustang MRX
For a while the ferocious Nascar-powered Ford Mustang of Collins and Ross looked poised to steal the outright One Hour from the rivals from Stuttgart. However, a messy run to the chequered flag meant third overall and first in Class C was the best they could hope for.
Next in class was Bruce Davidson; the series stalwart finishing 10th outright in his Chevrolet Corvette C6. Bob Sievwright and his BMW M3 GTR had been poised for a good result, too, until contact with the Collins Mustang put him out of the race.
1 Hour Class B winner (11th overall)
Jordan Michels, Team Williams Racing, Honda Civic Type R TCR
While the Class B TCR battle in the Three Hour was a chaotic affair, things were a little more straightforward in the One Hour. Michels, one of a few drivers performing double duty, took the win in his Honda Civic Type R — finishing one spot shy of the outright top 10.
Comfortably quickest in class, Michels claimed the win by a lap over Dennis Chapman in his Track Tec Racing Audi RS 3 LMS. The closest battle in class wound up being between the Honda Integra of Marcus Barnett and the Seat Leon Supercup of Grant and Cole Askew. The former narrowly won the battle, beating the more modern Seat by a tiny two-second margin.
1 Hour Class A winner (15th overall)
Andrew Gibson / Paul Booth, Blue Sky Finance, Honda Civic EF
The K20-swapped Honda Civic EF shared between Gibson and Booth was the last of the One Hour class winners, winning Class A by just three seconds from fellow Honda campaigner Tim Dossett and his Carters Tyres Civic — a similar EF.
The two 2kCup regulars recovered from mechanical gremlins in qualified (underlined by their Civic going into limp mode temporarily) to claim a close-fought win. The No. 64 Integra Type R DC5 of Clark Scott and Jim Boult made it an all-Honda podium in class, finishing a lap behind.