GT racing taking off
GT racing is taking off, around the world, and now in New Zealand. Cool cars are a large part of the attraction – Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches, Audis, even Bentleys.
The World Endurance Championship, which takes in Le Mans, includes GT categories, and the Blancpain GT series is big in Europe. Closer to home, the Australian GT championship is booming – and it includes one round in New Zealand this year, then two next year. Also in Australia, the Bathurst 12-hour race is now huge, with international drivers clamouring for seats there.
In New Zealand, the GTs appear mostly in endurance racing, which has steadily become a significant part of our motor racing landscape. For some time there have been separate endurance series – mainly for races about three hours long – in the North and South Islands, running under different rules. This year the two series are running to the same rules, and an official NZ endurance championship will be staged as a oneoff event in March.
The 2015 Mahindra North Island Endurance Series has been run over three rounds, at Taupo, Hampton Downs and Pukekohe. Triple NZV8 champion John McIntyre and his experienced codriver Ian “Inky” Tulloch won the series with two victories and one second placing in Tulloch’s 8-litre Chev Camaro, prepared for racing by a German company.
The Kiwi endurance races cater for a variety of categories, but the premier class is for cars racing under FIA GT3 regulations. This seems to be a very successful formula, allowing a big variety of cars to compete on more or less equal terms. At Pukekohe McIntyre and Tulloch took victory by less than five seconds from a Ferrari with less than half the engine capacity of the Camaro.
Before the Pukekohe race the Tulloch team had to work till 2am to change the Camaro to meet noise restrictions that had not applied at the other two circuits. Tulloch started the race and encountered four safety car periods during his stint before handing over to McIntyre after the halfway mark.
“Fact is, Inky stretched the car’s fuel out past where I could complete the race without needing to stop,” said McIntyre. “The one-stop strategy gave us the best chance at being competitive at the finish without needing to take risks.”
Needing to finish ahead of the reliable and potent DeVeth-Smith V8 SuperTourer (which is not a GT3 car) to take the series title, the Tulloch Motorsport team stuck to their race strategy despite a late safety car period that bunched up the field behind them.
Increasing sun strike, plus the need to deal with slow cars struggling to make their way round the track, made the final part of the race extra hard.
“It was a risk game I had to minimise the odds on – so I dropped the pace to improve our chances of finishing,” McIntyre explained. The Ferrari 430 Challenge of Jono Lester and Graeme Smyth came second, while third went to Deveth and Smith.
“Today was a hard-fought result,” McIntyre said. “Getting the race win against such world-class machinery while driving such a special car was a real buzz. It was a tough series with hard competition – and we overcame all of that as a team. Endurance racing is here to stay and if you’re going to be successful you have to have a good car and a good team.”
Drivers and fans alike really like the GTs, McIntyre says.
“Any of the GT3-spec cars are cool – it’s the sort of thing to be driving at the moment really,” he said. “Everyone who drives them loves them because they just do everything right. Round the world it’s really gaining a lot of momentum.
“People see these cars in racing games and on TV – as the elite and cars to aspire to – and here we are, racing them in their backyard. It is starting to get people’s interest – to see what they are at in the virtual world here in the flesh. It is definitely a new era of racing here in New Zealand.”
Jono Lester, who also races GTs in Australia, started the final race under a substantial handicap as the Trass Family Motorsport team’s GT3 Ferrari 458 Italia suffered an engine failure in practice and they had to switch to their second car, a Ferrari 430 Challenge.
“We didn’t expect the Challenge
Endurance racing can still be close – the McIntyre-Tullch Camaro leads a bunch at Pukekohe
The Lester-Smyth Ferrari 430 Challenge runs side-by-side with the Bagnall-Armstrong Audi R8 at Pukekohe