Smeg Racing’s Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson have been crowned 2017 ENEOS North Island Endurance Series winners, taking the final race of the season and the Three Hour series title.
“It’s a credit to the team, it was a whole team effort,” Evans said.
“The car felt really really good considering we hadn’t put a dry setup on the car before and tested it,” Rollinson added.
The final round of the series was held at Pukekohe Park where racing had to be abandoned on Saturday in favour of a Sunday start. Qualifying was cut, so drivers started where they sat in the points.
With the Trass Family Motorsport and Smeg Racing teams on equal footing in the points the times from last round were averaged out to give Rollinson the top spot.
Rollinson was beat off the line by the Nick Chester and Cameron Jones Holden Commodore VZ V8 Supercar into turn one. His time at the front was short lived, however, as Rollinson took the place back under brakes at turn five.
Despite the new addition to the team, the BMW M6 GT3 owned by Danny Stutterd couldn’t keep pace with Rollinson and Evans. Co-driver Sam Fillmore spent much of the early running behind the Commodore and got caught up in traffic.
Fillmore clouted the back of the Shane Parsons and Paul Verryt Honda CR-X only six minutes into the race. The Honda spun at turn five, but the BMW only suffered superficial damage.
The race was curtailed by nine safety cars, the first of which came just 14-minutes into the race when the no. 69 Mortimer Motorsport BMW M3 E46 went head first into the wall at the turn five and six complex.
The pattern of safety cars continued, but the head on crash between Noel Anderson and Gavin Yortt in the two Honda Civic Type-R FD2s forced a red flag. Anderson was later taken to hospital for a precautionary assessment.
In round’s prior rain was the main influencer, but this time it was the frequent safety car interventions that had the biggest impact.
Fillmore pitted midway through the race to hand the reigns to Stutterd under safety car. Half an hour later it was Rollinson who pitted for Evans.
“My stint was good, it was the first laps we’d really turned in the dry all weekend,” Rollinson said.
“I managed to gap the guys at the start and get a reasonable place and got myself into it. We had a really good period there with no safety cars. I think I got a 22-second lead, but then all hell broke loose.
“Later on pushed just a little bit harder and tried to build a gap. The Trass boys came in and we were pretty close to going a lap up on them towards the end, but another safety car got called so we couldn’t quite get that lap.”
Evans returned to the field behind Stutterd, but the Australian got caught in traffic soon after another restart. Several slower cars went three wide across the front straight, which left Stutterd with nowhere to go.
Having caught the tail of the BMW and with the opportunity in front of him, Evans pounced.
“We were right down the very back of the train, so I knew the first lap was going to be really interesting,” Evans said.
“As soon as I got to him he started driving quite defensive, which I expected. I knew I had one shot as passing him.
“He covered into the hairpin, I went out wide and just got a mega drive coming out and managed to go around the outside at the first kink.”
The final stanza of the race saw the top-three split by only a few seconds after the last safety car. Evans led Stutterd, but the Australian was passed late in the show by Jones. With the Commodore coming Evans said he knew he had to push one last time.
“I just maintained the gap to them, but then I saw the green lights in my mirror so I thought I should put the hammer down.
“It was hard because I was still in traffic. I just put my head down and focussed on getting a big enough lead so that if I got caught in traffic it wasn’t going to affect us.”
Despite a late push by Jones, Evans gapped the field and put 12 seconds on the Commodore. At the line it was Evans ahead of Jones and Stutterd in third.
The team were given their awards in the pit lane where they celebrated their victory. For the Smeg Racing outfit, their next challenge will be the final two round of the Australiang GT Endurance Championship at Hampton Downs and Highlands Motorsport Park later this year.