Two of the youngest drivers in the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series have bounced back to convert pole position into victory at Pukekohe Park.
Toyota 86 Championship graduates Jack Milligan, 21, and Reid Harker, 22, took their first victory together in the Three Hour Series for Palmerston North outfit MIKE Racing.
It was a memorable win for the pair who led home a 1–2 finish for the team with the second Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Brendon Leitch and Christina Orr-West close behind.
Winning was especially satisfying for the pairing having suffered during round one at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park. Electrical gremlins saw them in and out of the pits and ended hopes of finishing up the front despite a strong qualifying effort.
With their woes behind them the duo kept their car out of trouble to take the win.
“This is redemption after round one, for sure,” Harker said.
“I think we had the potential at round one, but things didn’t go our way. To secure the win at round two, I don’t think it could’ve gone any better with pole and the win.”
The second round of the series was dominated by attrition. Even before the race started title contenders Wet & Forget Racing had to withdraw from the event. An engine issue discovered on Friday evening prevented the early favourites from taking the start.
Christchurch-born Milligan started in the no.96 car, but a mistake at the beginning of the race dropped him down the order. However, they recovered, and both of the MIKE Racing Mercedes’ spent much of the race hovering inside the top five positions.
Nick Chester and Cameron Jones looked to be early race favourites in their ex-Supercar Holden Commodore VZ having led for much of the first stanza. However, their race came to a halt soon after the halfway mark when Jones suffered a suspension failure and crashed at the final corner.
The retirement meant it was a GT3 duel to the finish with John de Veth and Glenn Smith in the lead.
Albany-based Harker spent several laps under the rear wing of the leader. With traffic playing its part, Harker managed to round up de Veth at the turn five–six complex to take the lead.
A late dive to the pits during the final safety car period by de Veth for fuel handed second place to Leitch and Orr-West, which put MIKE Racing first and second.
On the final restart Leitch surged past the lapped traffic and got alongside Harker. However, he couldn’t make it past. Unaware that the race had gone green, Harker was caught out.
“I was waiting for the call for green from Mike (Chua) but I didn’t get it as early as Brendon did,” Harker said.
“I thought initially he’d jumped the restart. Obviously you can’t see the green coming over the hill so you’re relying on the person in your ear telling you it’s green. When I got the call, Brendon had already passed all those slower lapped cars.”
The margin between the pair stabilized at two and a half seconds after a brief battle. Marginal on fuel to the finish, Leitch backed off and allowed Harker to get away. Eventually Harker and Milligan came across the line just under 10 seconds ahead to take their first win.
Off the back of victory; spirits are high for Harker, Milligan and the team following the 1–2 finish. Milligan said he’s at the point where he feels confident he can be a regular contender despite their relative inexperience.
“I’m definitely more comfortably in the car now than what I was before,” Milligan said.
“I’ve had a pretty limited amount of laps. It’s a big learning curve for both of us, especially with the amount of aero this car has got.
“Endurance racing is all new to us as well, so we’re learning how it all works. It’s really good now though, we’re getting more comfortable with the team and with the car. Bring on Manfeild!”
A fourth and second place finish means Leitch and Orr-West provisionally sit atop the overall and GT-A class points standings with one round to go. Glenn Smith and John de Veth brought home third in class behind the leading MIKE Racing cars.
Provisionally, victory in GT-B went to John McIntyre and Simon GIlbertson who also finished fourth overall. Andre Mortimer and Glen Chappel took out Class One victory, meanwhile Bryan Symes and Lochlainn Fitzgerald-Symes won Class Two, with Stefan Calcot and Shane Drake winning Class Three.
The final round of the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series takes place at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding over July 20–21.