Riberas and Kelly take narrow win in Three Hour Endurance race at Teretonga
The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 driven by Spaniard Alex Riberas and former D1NZ Drift Champion Darren Kelly of Waikato took an enthralling victory over the winners of the race for the past two years, Neil Foster and Jonny Reid (Audi R8 LMS), at the opening round of the South Island 3 Hour Endurance Series at Teretonga Park, Invercargill on Saturday. The final margin at the end was just .574 of a second after the Aston Martin took the lead at the final pit stop and the Foster/Reid Audi came charging back over the last few laps.
It was Kelly’s first competitive motor race and just his second time in the car while it was Riberas’ first outing in New Zealand.
Third was local driver Brendon Leitch and Christina Orr-West of Whakatane in another Audi after a race that saw Orr-West take the first stint which was interrupted by an unscheduled pit stop for a tyre issue while Leitch ran out of petrol at the pit entry late in the race and had to be pushed along pitlane to be refuelled.
The other major player in the race, the Simon Gilbertson/John McIntyre Camaro had niggling dramas all day in Friday testing, the team doing a 12-hour stint until 4am on race day. They set their best ever qualifying time at Teretonga Park in qualifying only to be penalised after an ABS fault sent the car off the track bringing a red flag and dropping them three places on the grid.
Gilbertson put in some of his best Teretonga lap times during the first stint, running third before McIntyre took over. He maintained third place and put plenty of pressure on the Aston Martin before “zero set up time on Friday meant the tyres went away and he faded. Near the end of the race a small oil leak appeared which led to an electrical misfire. It could have been cleaned up but with the risk of fire the car was put away,” said McIntyre after the race.
The Foster/Reid Audi had started from pole with the Riberas/Kelly Aston Martin alongside then Leitch/Orr-West and Anthony Leighs/Paul Kelly of Christchurch in their Porsche Cup Car and Gilbertson/McIntyre next after their grid penalty.
The top contenders formed a high-speed train early on as Foster, Kelly, Orr-West and Gilbertson scorched away. Orr-West passed Kelly early on, but the tyre issue dropped the Audi down the field.
The Rhys Gould/Jaden Ransley Hyundai i30N had pitted at the end of opening lap with a spark plug problem and was an early retirement.
After 21 minutes the leaders were lapping the Scott O’Donnell/Martin and Allan Dippie Porsche in fifth place. The Graeme Rhodes/Paul Rickerby Falcon SuperTourer was the next casualty, limping almost a full lap to the pits only to be wheeled away with a gearbox problem after 25 minutes.
The gap between Foster and Kelly at the front was fluctuating at around 1 to 2 seconds depending on traffic but just before the one-hour mark Foster increased the margin as he used the backmarkers well.
At that one hour point, Foster led Kelly, Gilbertson and Orr-West who had driven back to fourth place.
Eight minutes later the Matthew and Lindsay O’Donnell BMW went off at the Esses and a safety car appeared which prompted the top three cars to head for the pits. The Aston Martin emerged first with Riberas at the wheel, but Reid in the Audi retook the lead soon after.
At the halfway point it was Reid 6.3 seconds ahead of Riberas with McIntyre in the Camaro a couple of seconds further back. McIntyre was pushing the Aston Martin very hard at this point of the race before the tyres went and he dropped back.
At the two hour mark Reid led by almost ten seconds from Riberas with a further 8 seconds back to McIntyre then Leitch in the Audi, the Leighs/Kelly Porsche, the O’Donnell/Dippie/Dippie car followed by Barry Moore and Tim Mackersy in their VW TCR car.
The beginning of the end came for McIntyre in the Camaro when he pitted before re-joining briefly before the car was wheeled away.
Riberas pitted for tyres with just over half an hour remaining with Reid in the Audi following suit. However, an issue with the Audi’s pitstop meant Reid re-joined around 5 seconds behind. Leitch had his fuel issue inside the last twenty minutes as the crowd focused on the Audi attempting to chase down the Aston Martin.
With ten minutes to go the margin was just over 3 seconds and it continued to come down and at the end of 186 laps the gap was just 0.574 of a second. Leitch/Orr-West were third 5 laps behind.
Kelly was elated after the race. “It was a very good day. The Safety Car was perfect for us for a driver change and managing fuel. Alex did a double stint and loved the track but it was narrower than what he is used to. The Audi had a pit stop issue at their last stop and we got a buffer but it is a very fast car. We were down on straight line speed in comparison. Towards the end the two cars were very even with tyre wear and the last ten laps were very close. Alex did an amazing job, there was just half a second in it after three hours of racing.”
Kelly and Riberas also won Class E while Leighs/Kelly took Class D honours. Moore and Mackersy were the Class B victors from Rowan Shepherd/Loch Fitzgerald-Symes in their Audi while Terence and Darryl Phillips of Ashburton won Class A in their Honda Civic by finishing eighth ahead of Mark Taylor and Vaughan Moroney of Timaru.
Drivers and teams take a break before heading to Christchurch for the second round at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park 3 October, followed by the third and final round two weeks later at the Timaru International Raceway 17 October.