Sam Collins (Marc II V8 Mustang) has overcome late drama to emerge victorious in today’s North Island Endurance Series One Hour race at Pukekohe.
Nick Ross (Nissan Altima L33 TLX) finished in second whilst Todd Bawden (Ferrari 488 Challenge) rounded out the podium, each collecting some stunning silverware for their efforts.
Whilst the margin of victory was 30 seconds Collins was forced to hold on over the dying stages with gearbox issues resulting in a false neutral.
A late spin caused by the issue gave Ross a sniff of race victory but Collins maintained his composure to keep it out of the wall and limp home to the flag.
Marco Schelp (BMW Z4 GT3) had been on pace all race, keeping Collins company and maintaining a gap of under a second for 50 minutes of the 60 minute race.
It wasn’t to be for the Cantabrian, fuel pump issues forcing him to the lane and putting him several laps down. He was able to return for the final minutes to take some valuable points with seventh overall.
John Midgley (Ford Falcon FG V8 ST) was another unfortunate victim of mechanical woes, forced to the lane after a charging drive had seen him take third midway through the race after starting from pitlane. He too was able to return briefly to the track but well out of contention.
Rhys Gould (Hyundai i30N TCR) was the first Class 4 & 5 driver across the line and finished a respectable fifth overall. Charles Rollo (Toyota Levin AE86) was second in class ahead of Scott Smith (Seat Leon Supercopa).
From the get-go it was Collins versus Schelp off the front row, the Mustang using all its power to take the lead into Turn 1 with Schelp, Ross, Bawden, Christina Orr-West , Shaun Varney (BMW E46 318 V8) and Gould immediately falling into file behind.
The ex-works BMW kept pace with Collins throughout early proceedings, maintaining a gap of less than a second over the first ten minutes as the duo pulled clear.
A tight battle for third was unfolding behind, Ross maintaining his position over Bawden, Orr-West, and Varney respectively as the rhythm set in.
It was Midgley who caught up to the trio as the race entered its mid-stages, picking off competitors one after the other to charge towards the front.
He picked off Bawden on Lap 16 before taking third off Ross just three laps later to begin to pull clear, now in third.
As soon as the pit window opened it was Varney who came in first for his mandatory 45 second stop, albeit with issues which forced them from the race.
Midgley was next to box from third, although he too had encountered issues and parked up for a lengthly stay.
Bawden followed the very next lap with Ross following the one proceeding that. Orr-West also took her stop at the same point to remain in contention with those ahead.
With just 2 minutes remaining in the pit window Collins and Schelp both made their stop, one second still the buffer from the Mustang to the BMW.
That was how they returned to the track, Collins keeping Schelp at bay until fuel-pump issues put Schelp out of contention and forced him to crawl to the lane, effectively withdrawing him from contention.
Just moments after is when Collins appeared to have issues, spinning with 8 minutes remaining due to his gearbox issues.
He kept the Mustang out of the wall to maintain his lead with Ross, now in second following Schelps issues, still 25 seconds behind.
There was also late drama for the Porsche 991 Gen II Gen 1 of Kris Bostock who spun on the Turn 2-4 corner complex in the final minutes. He too resumed with no damage to hold on for a solid and hard-earned sixth.
Ultimately that was how things finished, Collins getting his championship defence off to the perfect start with overall honours ahead of Wall and Bawden respectively.
Orr-West was the first Class 3 car home whilst Gould took Class 4 and Dane Fisher and Rob Steele (Suzuki Swift) kept it clean to top Class 5.
Both Ssanyong Utes also racked up plenty of laps, Adam Worsnop getting the better of Rick Cooper to finish 10th.
The North Island Endurance Series returns for Round 2 at Hampton Downs on 21-24 April.