Christchurch drivers Paul Kelly/Kevin Bell completed a clean sweep in the 2011 ASKO Appliances South Island Endurance Series on Saturday when they won the third and final round at Levels Raceway, Timaru in their Porsche 997 GT3
The win sealed the series title for the pair, the duo becoming the first drivers to win all three rounds in the history of the series which features the richest prize pool in New Zealand motorsport.
None of their wins in the series came easily and this one was undoubtedly the toughest. Kelly and Bell only seized the lead for the final time four minutes from the end of the race as the Ferrari F430 of Craig Innes (Taupo) and Sam MacNeill (Palmerston North) struggled with a vibration thought to be a damaged wheel bearing. The Ferrari crew had earlier made a strategic decision to pit when the first safety car period occurred just 43 minutes into the race. The tactic paid dividends and saw them one lap ahead of the field with just a handful of laps to run and looking good for victory. However fate intervened as another safety car period allowed Bell to get back onto the same lap. When racing resumed he chased down Innes and made a clean pass with an inside run at the sweeper. When Bell crossed the line at the end of the three hours to a highly animated reception from the pit lane he led the Ferrari by 3.567 seconds.
Third place went to Mike and Seadon Baker in their Porsche 997 GT3, two laps behind, with outgoing champions Allan Dippie and Grant Aitken of Otago fourth in their 996 GT3. Peter Van Eekelen and Kane Lawson were fifth and Gary Cliff and Hayden Knighton sixth.
Kelly and Bell were delighted with the series win. “It’s really good,” said Kelly at the finish. “We took pole three times and won three races. Kevin did a great job and the guys in the crew did an exceptionally good job. All we did was change one set of brake pads, put on fresh tyres and wash the car throughout the whole series.” Bell admitted he was “quite fortunate” to get a safety car late in the race. “The safety car let me catch the train. Those guys (Innes and MacNeill) drove very well and I don’t think I would have caught them otherwise.” On the series win he said, “it is great for Paul to have the trophy on his mantlepiece. He has got some good race mileage and he has been racing in Australia this season including Bathurst last week.”
Phil Hood of Kaikoura and Andre Heimgartner of Dannemora in Auckland had been on track for a potential podium finish in their Porsche 996 GT3, recording times competitive with the later model Porsches, but they retired with a suspected gearbox problem.
In addition to their overall series title the Kelly/Bell pairing also took GT class honors. Second overall in both the series and the GT Class were Mike and Seadon Baker with Dippie and Aitken third.
The 3501cc+ Class 1 series honors were taken out by the Christchurch pair of Graeme Rhodes/Paul Rickerby in their Mazda RX7 V8 after they finished eighth overall on Saturday while their closest rivals Bruce Davidson/Dave Garden of Alexandra in a Chev C5 Corvette retired leaving second in the series to John Wadsworth and Warren Croft of Blenheim.
The 2001-3500cc Class 2 went to Shane Helms/Rob Bolland of Auckland in their BMW. The duo also took the big spot prize of the series, an original watercolor painting by high country artist Norman Sinclair valued at approximately $10,000.
The 0-2000cc Classes 3 & 4 went to the impressive Honda S2000 of Timaru drivers Steve Parker/Matt Jackson after they crossed the line in ninth place on Saturday. Second in the class for the series and the best of the Class 4 cars was the Peugeot Clubsport of Dunedin drivers Ken Sinclair and Dennis Ham.
Earlier in the day car owner Tim O’Connor had taken the same Ferrari F430 that came so close to winning the 3 Hour race to a comfortable win in the ASKO Appliances One Hour Race. O’Connor finished one lap ahead of Dougal MacGibbon of Nelson who had to pit early in the race to check an oil leak. However the leak had rectified itself and MacGibbon charged back to second place in his Toyota Starlet with Round 1 winner, Stu Black of Dunedin in another Starlet, third.
After three rounds the One Hour Series went to Invercargill driver Jeremy Dawson in a Toyota Starlet. Dawson just headed off fellow Southlander Grant Molloy who had a late race puncture at this round which cost him the championship. Dawson also won his class while other class winners in the One Hour Series were Marc Denton of Christchurch, Ian Clapperton of Dunedin and O’Connor.
Thanks to Series sponsor ASKO Appliances as well as class sponsors Southern Finance, Burnside Contractors, Hagley Aluminum, Southern Demolition and Allied Petroleum / Mobil 1, the Series will had the richest prize money pool in NZ Motorsport - $30,000. With $10,000 up for grabs for the overall 3hr Series winners, the balance is paid out on class points across both the 3hr & 1hr Series. As well as a cheque for $10,000 the overall 3hr series champion is awarded the ‘South Canterbury Toyota Cup’ and there are also numerous other trophies, prizes and awards for the series, including an original watercolor painting by High Country artist Norman Sinclair valued at approximately $10,000 which is given away at the Series prize giving as a spot prize to a competitor in either the 3hr or 1hr Series.