Kiwi race star Shane Van Gisbergen driving with Australian Klark Quinn in a McLaren secured a hard-fought round victory from fellow Kiwis Jono Lester and Graeme Smyth in a Ferrari at the final round of the Australian GT Championship taking place at Highlands Motorsport Park this weekend.
The Australian GT finale is part of the biggest weekend of motorsport run at the Cromwell, New Zealand circuit each year, which also features the 101-lap Highlands 101 race on Sunday.
A fourth place in Saturday’s first Australian GT races was enough for professional German racer Christopher Mies, driving with Ryan Millier in the Jamac-Penn Racing Audi, to secure his first Australian GT Championship title. Mies was perfectly positioned to take his first Australian GT series win coming into the final round at Highlands, with Nathan Antunes the only competitor capable of stopping him.
For the first of the two 60-minute races, Klark Quinn started on the front row beside the Audi of pole-setter Christopher Haase and Steve McLaughlan, and was quick to secure the lead, while Antunes chased hard in third. With extremely windy conditions and dust blowing across the circuit, it was difficult for drivers to find a clean racing line. Lester, having started fifth and been concerned about some clutch and brake issues during the morning warm-up session, then got past Antunes while Mies’ co-driver Ryan Millier kept things steady in fifth.
Just before the 30-minute mark came the unexpected drama of a clash between Antunes and Haase, Audi stable-mates from Melbourne Performance Centre. This bought out the safety car and sparked a flurry of teams utilising the opportunity for their compulsory pit stop. Following the pit-stop reshuffle, Lester’s co-driver Graeme Smyth had the lead until Van Gisbergen took his McLaren to the front to go on and secure his first Australian GT race win of the season. Third place went to Erebus Motorsport’s Max Twigg and Shae Davies in a Mercedes-Benz.
Antunes’ Audi would prove irreparable, meaning no second Australian GT race on Saturday afternoon or the weekend feature race, the Highlands 101, on Sunday.
With the grid for race two determined by the finishing order of race one, Van Gisbergen lead from the front while V8 Supercar star Garth Tander made some early gains in the McLaren he was racing with Tony Quinn to climb to second. The McLaughlan/Haase Audi was out with a broken driveshaft and as the compulsory pit stops commenced, Dale Wood in the Justin McMillan Lamborghini had the lead and Erebus Motorsport’s Morgan Haber held second. Contact between Ryan Millier in Mies’ Audi and Tony Quinn bought the safety car out and it was all on once the safety car was clear. Millier copped a drive-through penalty, which allowed Kiwi Porsche star Craig Baird to tackle Haber for the lead during the final few intensely-fought laps. Haber held on for his first-ever Australian GT race win, Baird with Scott Taylor were second in their Porsche, Lester and Smyth were third, Klark Quinn and Van Gisbergen were fourth and Tony D’Alberto was fifth.
Mies said: “I can’t believe I won the Australian GT Championship! I’m so happy for the entire team, but I want to dedicate this championship to all in France [referring to the mass shooting in Paris overnight].”
Of their round win, Quinn said: “I was racing really hard and Shane put me in the perfect position in the second race.”
Van Gisbergen added: “The car was fantastic and Klark did really well to bring it home for us to take the round win. This points us in a good mind-set for the 101 tomorrow.”
For Lester and Smyth, this was their first podium position for a round, and both were very happy to end their first Australian GT season with tangible evidence of their success.
Also on-track today, the Euromarque category saw Aucklander Sam Fillmore in a Porsche GT3 secure victory in the first of three 11-lap races. Also racing Porsche GT3s, Glen Smith, from Hawera, took second ahead of Christchurch’s Danny Whiting.
The Highlands 101 race weekend continues on Sunday with the main feature race kicking off with a free grid walk for spectators at 12.30pm and the race start at 1pm. The Highlands 1+01 race – a one-hour-plus-one-lap mini enduro – takes place in the morning as well as another Euromarque race.
To purchase tickets online, visit TicketDirect www.ticketdirect.co.nz and search for ‘Highlands 101’. Tickets are also available at the gate. More information about the Highlands 101 and the many activities and adventures running daily at Highlands Motorsport Park is available from www.highlands.co.nz or find Highlands on Facebook or Twitter.