Clouds, Car Swaps and Chaos in the North Island Enduro

The final round of the North Island Endurance Series was held over the weekend of the 22nd of July. We hit 3 strikes in a row with the wild wet weather! We got knocked down, but we got straight back up! The SsangYong Dealer Team and I came away winners with silverware.

Friday practise was nothing but wet, from squishy wet shoes, to cold wet clothes and a puddly wet track. Showing great pace and a confident car in the showery conditions our practise was then cut short as we lost engine oil pressure. After much discussion The SsangYong Dealer Team decided to pull the pin as without being 100% sure of the source we didn’t want to cause more damage. This was disappointing as we were currently 2nd in our class and 5th overall in the championship.

Deon rang me later that night and asked if I still wanted to race, I said “yes, what do I need to do.” Rick Cooper Chairman of SsangYong and LDV New Zealand offer us to cross enter his 302 Boss Mustang into the 3 hour, so we could still have a chance to fight for the round win. We just need confirmation we were allowed to do a car swap. This was sorted and we were back in the fight.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any wetter, it did; the puddles had turned into ponds and the track was as cold and slippery as ice. Practise was postponed as it was too dangerous to go out; we waited and waited, but the circuit only got worse as the officials and track crew tried to find ways to drain the water. It was an unassailable battle as the water squeezed out from the hills and horse racing course above. A meeting was held with teams, drivers and officials and the inevitable decision was made to write the day off, post pone the race and try again tomorrow as the forecast was for blue skies.

As we had no practise or qualifying due to the conditions, we started from our championship positions, which meant we were off grid 5. Deon started the race, quickly came to grips with the Boss Mustang and moved forward. There were many safety cars throughout the race as driving offline was costly from the greasy track and still wet grass and even the slightest mistake had huge consequences. Deon kept it clean and handed the Boss over to me when a safety car fell perfectly for our strategy.

I was in. Radio check. Belts check. Fuel done. Go! Go! Go! Was screamed across the radio. Driving out of the pits quicker than we came in, I caught onto the back of the safety car train and when the lights turned green immediately pushed forward through the slower tail end cars. I had only driven the Boss in the rain before, and had to quickly learn the limits of the car. With every lap my times dropped faster and faster and kept consistent even when passing the other cars.

11 laps in the car started filling up with smoke each time I would accelerate. Another safety car was called, so I came into the pits to find the source of the problem. Unfortunately we had blown a rear engine seal which meant we were losing oil. There was nothing we could do to fix this problem without a hoist and a good 2 hours; so our day and endurance series was done. Although we now couldn’t win we then had to play the waiting game to see whether we would finish second or third in the overall championship.

After a weekend of highs and lows, we proudly finished on the podium with a 3rd place overall in the championship. It was a team effort by the SsangYong Dealer Team and also by Rick for lending us his pride and joy to complete the final round. We have much work to do before we contest the South Island Endurance Series, where the super ute will be back better than ever as we make the final step up from 2nd to 1st . Thank you to everyone for your help and support throughout the series!

Written By: Alexandra Whitley

Photo Credit: Matt Smith