Brother power push for the Dayle ITM Mike Racing Mercedes
The power of the Leitch brothers’ sibling bond was put to the ultimate test in the Carter’s Tyres South Island Endurance Series’ opening race, when Damon helped nudge Brendon’s stranded Dayle ITM Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 toward the finish line, to the delight of their hometown fans at Teretonga Park in Invercargill yesterday.
Damon was acting with the permission of his team boss Tony Quinn, who urged over him over the radio to help out his stricken brother, after he had run out of fuel with only 300m left in the three-hour race. The altruistic act meant the Dayle ITM Mike Racing team initially finished third overall and third in class GT-E division for FIA GT3 homologated cars but an unpleasant surprise was issued in the race results. Quinn and Leitch and the Dayle ITM Mike Racing team were both disqualified for giving and receiving outside help to a car on the track.
Despite the disappointment of having the podium finish nullified, the younger Leitch says he is still in his brother’s debt.
“I owe him a beer or a box or two.”
“I think it will definitely go down in the history books as one of the craziest races. Considering everything that happened we did amazing. The cars that were behind us the same spec cars as us that we should have beaten. To finish in front of them and show our worth in front of a high calibre of drivers was just awesome,” [Brendon] Leitch adds.
He had taken over from team mate Christina Orr-West and was doing his best in the last half of the race to look after the Mercedes’ fresh tyres. Intermittently-functioning radio communication meant he sometimes couldn’t hear Dayle ITM Director Deb Day’s instructions and she couldn’t hear him.
With 20 minutes left in the race, he radioed in to say the fuel level was looking low. Day had told him he had a good gap over fourth and to try to back off a bit to save the tyres and fuel. It was an anxious final set of laps for Leitch.
“On the last lap of the race coming onto the front straight the Merc started to die and then it stopped halfway down. I put it in gear and got it cranking on the starter motor, which I used to push it along a bit. Big brother came around and got told by the big boss to ‘give your little brother a push would you’ and he gave me a bit of a nudge and it was enough. I cruised across the line on my own steam. I got out of the car and all the home crowd were up on the bank clapping,” Leitch says.
For Orr-West watching the final lap with the rest of the Dayle ITM Mike Racing team, their emotions ricocheted from heart break to relief.
“I wouldn’t want to go through that again. When I saw him slow to a stop my heart sunk and I started to feel myself get choked up. I started screaming at him to ‘just stuff the starter motor’. The team went from heartbroken to ‘oh my gosh we actually just finished’,” she says.
She also lost radio communication about halfway through her driving stint, which made it difficult for her to know when to bring the Mercedes into the pits to hand-over to Leitch.
The safety car came out when she was in pit lane, which had its advantages and disadvantages.
“We came in earlier than everyone else otherwise we would’ve got jammed up big-time. We managed to get out before everyone came in and swamped pit lane. We got a little bit lucky there.”
“The safety car then pulled out before the train of traffic caught up and the top guys got a bit more of a head start on me. I lost about 10 seconds but I managed to catch back up which gave Brendon the opportunity to get past them when he took over,” Orr-West says.
She “thoroughly enjoyed” being back in the Mercedes and achieved all the lap times she had set for herself.
Running a 550hp V8 engine, the Dayle ITM Mike Racing Mercedes is at a power disadvantage compared to the V12 and V10 engines of its rivals.
“We knew from the start we had a P3 car at best so it was great to actually achieve that result. I knew that we didn’t have what everyone else was packing. Everyone went with a hiss and a roar and I though nah we can’t deal with that and kept to the fights we knew we could win,” Orr-West says of her tactical driving style.
The Dayle ITM Mike Racing team will move on from the disappointment of having their podium finish revoked and regroup for the second round of the Carter’s Tyres South Island Endurance Series at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna, Christchurch, in a fortnight.
Media release: Catherine Pattison
Photo: Euan Cameron