It was a thrilling end to the third round of the Australian GT Endurance Championship that took place at Hampton Downs in New Zealand, which saw the Lago Lamborghini of David Russell and Roger Lago take an impressive comeback win.
In the end, the teams had to take a NASCAR style approach, to buy a ticket to the final seven laps of the race, as it came down to a sprint finish, one that had its fair share of controversy.
It was the Lago Lamborghini R-EX that took pole with Russell putting in an incredible lap of 1:30.806 to take pole in the top 10 shootout, beating Andrew Miedecke’s Aston Martin by just over a tenth of a second.
As usual in Australian GT, the pit stop times would take into account the driver rankings and grid positions and with two compulsory pitstops, it would prove to be a vital element in this race.
Russell would lead the first 22 laps of the race after a strong start, taking their first pitstop when a yellow flag comes out for a spin involving Adrian Deitz’s Ferrari and Tim Miles’ Audi.
In that pitstop, Russell would hand over to team owner, Roger Lago, a rapid racer in his own right. But a pit lane violation would mean that the Lamborghini would have to take a drive through penalty.
The pitstop allowed the Nissan GTR with Nissan Academy winner, Matt Simmons and Supercars racer Michael Caruso to take a temporary lead. Their race would be cut short a few laps later with technical issues.
The race would see four more yellow flag periods, one for Theo Koundouris’s Audi when he was spun by Ash Samadi’s Audi on lap 37. Max Twigg spun his BMW to bring out the third safety car.
A crash involving Tony Quinn, Andrew Miedecke and Tony Bates at Turn 1 brought out the fourth safety car.
However, the final and telling yellow flag period came when the Richard Moore/Tony Longhurst Aston Martin ground to a halt on track with just a handful of laps remaining.
Before the safety car period, the Maranello Ferrari of Pete Edwards/Graeme Smythe had played a good strategy with a short pitstop time to take strong lead over Russell in his Lamborghini, the Tekno McLaren of Grant Denyer/Nathan Morcom and the Porsche of John Martin/Duvashen Padayachee.
On the green flag, the Ferrari’s advantage had disappeared and it was a race between Smythe and Russell.
There was valiant defence from the Ferrari, holding off the Lamborghini for a few laps before running wide at a corner, relinquishing the lead.
The next task was to hold onto second.
As part of this fight was a recovering Chris Mies, who was a lap down but determined to get his lap back. He set quite a pace and was a fly in the ointment for the front runners as he made passes.
But it served only as a distraction and as lap 101 commenced, it was Russell from Smythe and Morcom in the McLaren.
Half way through the lap though, controversy struck when Morcom dived down the inside of the Ferrari. Smyhe closed the door but it was too late, the two collided – spinning and eliminating the Ferrari.
Morcom was able to continue but not before Martin had taken advantage in his Porsche.
At the line it was the Lamborghini of Russell/Lago from the Porsche of Martin/Padayachee and the McLaren of Denyer/Morcom.
The luckless Ferrari was not classified as they didn’t take the flag.
The results took some time to be confirmed as the stewards looked into the final lap incident.
In the end the results stood as they were at the end of 101 laps, leaving Daniel Bilski/Garth Tander to take fourth in the JAMEC-Pem Racing Audi R8 LMS. Liam Talbot/Jake Fouracre (Audi R8), Tony Bates/Chris Mies (Audi R8), Peter Hackett/Dom Storey (Mercedes AMG GT3) took the minor places.
The Australian GT Championship and Australian Endurance Championship runners conclude their season at the Highlands Circuit in two weeks time.