SMEG Racing's Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson walked away victorious after a controversial finish lead to a post race investigation at the first round of the Eneos North Island Endurance Series — held at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park over the weekend — where the pair had piloted their new Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
A strong contention was put up by Sam Filmore and Daniel Gaunt in the Trass Family Motorsport (TFM) Ferrari 458 throughout the race, seeing a three hour long battle between the two cars, all the while changing conditions made for challenging driving out on track.
Rollinson took an early lead after starting the race from pole position, while Sam Fillmore was forced to hold off a determined Clark Proctor in his Nissan GT-R early on. Both cars went into tyre conservation mode when the track began to dry after a damp start and the gap narrowed to roughly eight seconds.
"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, continuing, “'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."
Although the drying conditions, rain was looming, and orders were coming from the SMEG camp for Rollinson to stay out on wets while rival cars pitted to bolt on slicks — the only exception being the Ferrari 458 of TFM and that of International Motorsport.
Those now running slicks used their advantage to claw back time on the leading Audi, but a second dose of rain that forced them to pit would only send them further backwards — while an off forced a safety car putting the Ferrari 458 down a lap.
Rollinson had managed to maintain a good pace throughout the mayhem and held onto his one-lap advantage before pitting to put Evans in the hotseat. Evans worked hard to keep that pace going, but with international pro driver Gaunt now behind the wheel of the TFM car, the team were able to bring the car in for a quick switch to slicks and carve large chunks out of the Audi’s lead, which was still running wets.
The switch between wets and slicks continued before rain fell within the last 30-minutes, causing Gaunt to duck in for wets, with Evans following a lap later — only to get caught behind and bump the rear of Marty McCullough and Ian Foster’s DC5 Integra in pit lane — causing a monumental loss of time.
Another safety car was called for an offed BMW, while Andrew Porter and Clark Proctor were disqualified after Procter had gone over his max driving time. A race restart saw Evans take a quick lead and Gaunt ducking through pack traffic, but the impending battle for first was not to be when a huge crash claimed the Reiter Engineering Camaro of Glen Smith and John De Veth in the last minutes, ending the race with a red flag.
Evans and Rollinson were declared the winners, although their celebrations were postponed pending a post race investigation into the pit lane bumping incident, which would later be closed with the pairing handed their win.
Evans said of the race: "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.
"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 lead the series by five points heading into the second round of the championship at Hampton Downs next month (24 June).
1st: Simon Evans/Gene Rollinson (GT-A) — 105
2nd: Sam Fillmore/Danny Stutton (GT-A) — 100
3rd: Neil Foster/Johnny Reid (GT-A) — 96
4th: Nick Chester/Cameron Jones (GT-B) — 92
5th: James Urquhart/Richard Moore (GT-B) — 89
6th: Lance Hughes/Andre Heimgartner (GT-B) — 86
7th: Andre Mortimer/Matt Griffin (Class 1) — 83
8th: Deon Cooper/Alexandra Whitley (Class 1) — 80
9th: Hayden Johnston/Preston Johnston (Class 3) — 77
10th: Paul Verryt/Shane Parsons (Class 1) — 74
11th: David Grigor/Gavin Yortt (Class 3) — 72
12th: Darryl Clarke/Malcolm Niall (Class 2) — 70
13th: Darryl Barrett/Hamish Frew (Class 1) — 68
14th: Bryan Symes/Lochlainn Fitzgerald-Symes (Class 2) — 66
15th: Scott Smith/Shaun Van Beers (Class 1) — 64
16th: Trevor Strong/Noel Anderson (Class 3) — 62
17th: Tim Martin/Dean Farmer/Stephen Martin (Class 1) — 60
18th: Marty McCullough/Ian Foster (Class 3) — 58
19th: Stefan Calcott/Robert Young (Class 3) — 56
20th: Brendan Murphy/Brock Cooley (Class 1) — 55
21st: Allan Rickerby/Gavin Oram (Class 1) — 54
22nd: David Dovey/Matt Dovey (Class 1) — 30
22nd: Simon Lucas/Kent Baigent (Class 1) — 30
22nd: Mathew McCullough/Liam Foster (Class 3) — 30
22nd: Callum Quin/John Penny/Simon Mclennan (GT-B) — 30
22nd: Glenn Smith/John DeVeath (GT-A) — 30
23rd: Simon Sceats/James Kirkpatrick (GT-B) — 10
DQ: Andrew Porter/Clark Proctor (Class 1) — 0