ENEOS North Island Endurance Series
Race 1 - Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo
SMEG Racing's Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson remain unbeaten in endurance racing in their Audi R8 LMS Ultra, but their win at the first round of the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo, was a close run thing.
After three hours of racing in intense and very challenging and changeable conditions, the Lighting Direct-backed SMEG Racing Audi, run in conjunction with Racer Products, finished the race under a red flag just three seconds ahead of the Sam Filmore and Daniel Gaunt TFM Ferrari 458 after a race long duel between the two cars.
Starting the race from pole position, Rollinson took an early lead and maintained it comfortably through to the 45 minute mark when the track began to dry out. Both the SMEG Racing Audi and the Ferrari went into tyre conservation mode and the gap narrowed to around eight seconds. A heavy downpour then opened up the gap between the cars before Rollinson's pit stop, the last of the three hour runners.
"We were not quite sure how the strategy was going to work out, it obviously dried out, so we were just trying to conserve the tyres and keep them cool," explained Rollinson after his stint. 'Luckily we managed to save the tyres enough and were able to press on again in the final part of my stint in worsening conditions."
The pit stop was one of the quickest and gained Evans further advantage as the safety car came in following an off for one of the other competitors. Both Audi and Ferrari re-joined on wets behind the safety car and once the green flag was given, Evans shot off into another decent lead. The track though, soon began to dry out again and the Ferrari, now in the hands of international pro driver Daniel Gaunt, dived in for slicks and began to carve large chunks out of the lead of the SMEG Racing Audi, which was still on wets.
Inside the last half hour, with the gap narrowing, Evans also made a quick stop for slick tyres and then proceeded to trade fast laps with Gaunt until the rain came again. Both cars pitted for wets and re-joined, very close on the track, but with just minutes to go another downpour led to a huge crash for the GT Camaro of Glen Smith and John De Veth and the race was red flagged.
"It was a close race all the way really and we were never in a truly comfortable position, especially at the end in the heavy rain when it was impossible to go full throttle down the main straight," explained Simon Evans. "But it was an awesome team effort and the pit crew were kept very busy and ultimately put together a series of stops that helped keep us out front and in first place at the flag. It’s fair to say we're all pretty stoked with the result and all still buzzing about a very challenging race."
SMEG Racing now leads the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series, which now heads for round two of the championship at Hampton Downs next month.
Race 2 - Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Waikato
Weather proved the deciding factor in the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series for the SMEG Racing Audi crew of Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson, with the duo having having to settle for second place behind the Trass Family Motorsport Ferrari of Danny Stutterd and Sam Fillmore.
A shower just after the pit stops at half way forced Simon Evans and the SMEG Racing Lighting Direct backed machine back in to the pits to change for wets having opted for slicks at the main pit stop and this dropped him 30 seconds behind the Ferrari which had stayed on wet tyres. A late incident and subsequent yellow flag robbed the crew of the chance to fight back and with the race finishing under a yellow flag after damage to the barriers, the car completed the three hours just under seven seconds behind the winners.
The pole position holders had a relatively untroubled run during the first hour and a half with Gene Rollinson behind the wheel, having led and maintained that position through two Safety Car periods as the pit stops approached. With the weather looking favourable and the track drying out, changing to slick tyres seemed the logical way to go in the pit stop, but the weather had other ideas.
"Both ourselves and the TFM Ferrari effectively had to take a gamble at our pit stops," explained Simon Evans. "We felt reasonably confident that going onto slicks was the best option and the Ferrari boys stayed on their wets. The drying track was a deception however and the rain came back and forced us to make another stop and go back onto wets. It didn't go our way and that's racing.
"It's a shame, Gene did a great job and we almost had a lap on them at one stage before the Safety Car period but it is just one of those days. We're second today and joint leaders in the championship heading to the final round at Pukekohe Park, so it's going to be exciting."
The third and deciding round at Pukekohe Park takes place on Saturday July 23rd.