The final round of the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series is set to go down to the wire after Trass Family Motorsport (TFM) made it one apiece with Smeg Racing in the Three Hour title race.
New Zealand’s Sam Fillmore and Australian Danny Stutterd took victory at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in the North Waikato battling through conditions that tested strategists and drivers alike.
The win comes off the back of a narrow loss to the Smeg Racing outfit at round one of the series at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park; where Dan Gaunt and Fillmore fell just short of the top spot for TFM as the race ended prematurely.
“I felt like we deserved the win in Taupo, I really did, so it’s nice to get the win today and it’s going to make the final so exciting,” Fillmore said.
“It’s one each heading into Pukekohe. I think we’ve got a real battle on our hands, but I think we can win it.”
After qualifying on pole position, Gene Rollinson began the race behind the wheel of the Smeg Racing Audi R8 LMS. He immediately set about extending a 30-second margin over the TFM Ferrari, lapping many of the slower cars.
Stutterd began the race for the TFM crew, but quickly found himself out in the weeds and skating through the gravel.
“The track was drying out, but if you ran wide on the shiny part of the track there was no grip,” Stutterd said.
“You had to stay on that semi-dry line, I had a spin onto the main straight as well. We had to drive to the conditions.”
The TFM Ferrari 458 GT3 hadn’t led a lap in the Three Hour race until just after the clock ticked over the two hour mark.
It was a dramatic final hour of the race, which saw the TFM outfit penalised for speeding in the pit lane. Fortunately for them an accident involving the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of Simon Sceats and James Kirkpatrick shortly after their drive through penalty brought out the safety car.
That effectively negated the impact of the penalty and put them within arm’s reach of the leading Audi. Fillmore was slow to get up to speed after the restart and dropped back. Andre Heimgartner in the Lance Hughes Holden Commodore VE TLX rounded up Evans in quick time, but was penalised for crossing the pit lane blend line.
Earlier, the Smeg Racing outfit gambled on wet weather tyres in drying conditions—ultimately the decision proved costly. With a drying track and little water to keep the tyres at optimum temperatures, the Audi rapidly began fading.
Conversely, Fillmore had conserved his wet tyres to the point where he could still extract time in the drying conditions.
Evans lost handfuls of time to Fillmore chasing in the Ferrari. Within just a few laps the Ferrari was on the back of Evans’ wing and challenging for the lead.
Fillmore dived down the inside of Evans from five car lengths back and into the lead with just 50-minutes remaining. From there he extended an unassailable lead.
A safety car late in the race threatened to derail TFM’s win, but damage to the inside Armco barrier meant the race finished under yellow to give the Ferrari crew their first win of the season.
“I felt so comfortable in the car and I knew I was lapping a little bit quicker than the Smeg car so it was all on,” Fillmore said.
“It was hard to drive on those tyres. When it was dry it was hard to hold onto. Once we got a bit of rain it was good.”
With just one round remaining the points at the top of the table are even on 205-points each. Come Pukekohe, whoever finishes ahead will take outright honours and GT A class victory.
After their taste of victory at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park and their latest win in at Hampton Downs, Stutterd has confidence in himself, Fillmore and the team to win the title for the second straight year.
“I think we’ve got the car and the guys. All credit to the Smeg guys, they’re fast, but there’s a bit of strategy and traffic and weather.
“That’s all part of endurance racing, so on outright pace they beat us a little bit, but it’s a three hour race and all sorts of things can happen.
“I think we’ve got a very good chance of winning.”
The ENEOS North Island Endurance Series takes on South Auckland’s Pukekohe Park for the season’s grand final on July 22. For more information visit the North Island Endurance Series Facebook page.