David Russell and Roger Lago took the third round of the Australian Endurance Championship at Hampton Downs in New Zealand, after a frantic sprint to the flag.
The 101-lap enduro came down to a 10-lap sprint to the finish, Russell overhauling Graham Smythe’s Ferrari three laps from the end after a fortunately-timed Safety Car destroyed the leading Ferrari’s gap.
It was an up and down day for the Russell/Lago Lamborghini. Russell led the first stint of the race, but the car fell back into the field due to a drive-through penalty after Lago made contact with Max Twigg’s BMW.
Russell then dragged the car back into second, which looked to be as far as he’d be able to go with Smythe a fair way up the road. But when the fifth-placed Aston Martin of Richard Moore rolled to a stop 10 laps from the end, bringing out the Safety Car, everything changed.
It put Russell right on Smythe’s tail, the Lamborghini easing past the Ferrari with three laps to go and set up the win.
“I’m so happy. We’re a very small team, the boys work extremely hard,” said Russell. “We’ve been chipping away, for us this is a big win.
“We got lucky with the Safety Car to bunch everyone up, but them’s the breaks.”
Things got worse for Smythe on the final lap. Having lost the lead, he found himself under immense pressure from the third placed McLaren of Nathan Morcom on the final lap. The pair came to blows just a few corners from the flag, John Martin sneaking past them both to nick second place for he and Duvashen Padayachee in the Walkinshaw Porsche.
Morcom brought the McLaren home third for he and Grant Denyer, while Smythe and co-driver Peter Edwards’ race ended with the Ferrari stranded out on track. It was desperately disappointing result having popped up in contention to win, having fallen on the right side of Safety Cars and compulsory stops up until that final caution.
The last-lap drama resulted in a promotion for Jamec Pem pair Daniel Bilski and Garth Tander, who moved up to fourth ahead of the Skwirk Audi of Liam Talbot and Jake Fouracre.
Tony Bates and Chris Mies came back to finish sixth in the #1 Jamec Pem Audi after Bates had a mid-race tangle with Tony Quinn’s Aston, while Peter Hackett and Dom Storey finished the race seventh, having been in contention to win up until a miscalculation on their final timed stop saw them tumble down the order.
In the early stages of the race, it looked as if Nissan might make a winning start to its factory-backed Australian GT campaign. Michael Caruso spent the first stint of the race sitting under David Russell’s rear wing in second place, before Matt Simmons carried on the charge at the front following the first driver change.
But it all came crashing down on Lap 44, Simmons making contact with the Chester/De Veth Camaro. There was sufficient damage to the front left of the GT-R to end its day early.