John Midgley returned to the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series to take victory at round two of the One Hour series at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.
The shortened race was marred by several incidents caused by a sudden downpour late in the race. It all ended in controversy with Matt Whittaker initially given the race win only to have it taken from him.
The race began in the dry with International Motorsport driver Whittaker in his Porsche 911 991 GT3 Cup car going side-by-side with Midgley through the opening set of corners.
Whittaker eventually got past Midgley’s Ford Falcon V8 SuperTourer at turn four, but the NZ Touring Car driver hustled the round one winner.
The pair were eventually split when lapped traffic began to play its part. A few brief safety car interventions brought the field back together and with rain starting to fall on the circuit, some completed their compulsory pit stop to fit wet tyres.
The race was turned on its head with 15-minutes to go when rain began to pelt the North Waikato circuit. Whittaker led the field comfortably and chose to pit for wet tyres.
Midgley and his team hadn’t planned for the rain and weren’t prepared for the sudden downpour. Whittaker lost a spot to Midgley on his pit stop, but with the time left in the race looked odds on to take the lead.
“We didn’t really have a plan B, so it was just a matter of staying out there until a caution or a red flag because we didn’t really have a plan to change to wets if it did rain,” Midgley said.
“It was just a matter of staying out there as long as possible and hoping for someone to bring out a caution.”
All hell broke loose when the Peter Bergovich Holden Commodore VE followed Bernard Verryt into the gravel trap at turn three. The front bumper of Bergovich’s car was destroyed, but the pair managed to make it out the other side.
The rear wheel drive V8s continued to struggle as race leader Midgley went wide exiting the hairpin. The drama continued as the Graeme Fraser BMW E36 speared off the road at turn one, only moments later Jordan Baldwin spun on the front straight at high speed.
On slick tyres Midgley spun on the lead up to pit lane, just missing the entry to pit lane. Whittaker passed the stricken Falcon and into the lead.
“The rain started to get a bit more intense. The main thing for me was keeping heat in the tyres. Even though the rain was coming down, as long as I kept the heat in them it wasn;t oo bad.
“It just got too heavy and there was no hope of really pushing on at any real rate. I tried to back off and unfortunately didn’t back off it enough and looped it on the front straight.”
With the red flag out and the chequered flag falling on the race many believed Whittaker had won. However, confusion over what lap the race result would be taken from began to circulate.
Initially the decision was made to take the result from the last lap everyone had completed given some were in the pits at the time of the red flag, which put Whittaker as the race winner.
It was later determined the final result be taken from the time of the first incident, which put Midgley in the lead and with it the race win.
Midgley said he enjoyed the battle with Whittaker throughout the race which ebbed and flowed.
“It was a really good battle because both cars have their strengths and weaknesses.
“We were pretty even, so it was pretty cool to dice with him. I’d have a bit more legs up the front straight and he’d have me under brakes.
“The car felt mega.”
Midgley said he was buoyed by the pace in the car. With a new set of Michelin tyres on the car he said he was two to three second faster than normal around the Hampton Downs facility.
The ENEOS North Island Endurance Series takes on South Auckland’s Pukekohe Park for the season’s grand final on July 22. For more information visit the North Island Endurance Series Facebook page.