David Whitburn and Graham Ball (BMW E92) took a commanding win in the Two Hour enduro at Pukekohe in a race which ultimately came down to a war of attrition.
Father/son pairing Brad and Greg Kroef earnt a hard fought second in their Ford Falcon VE Ute, one spot ahead of fellow V8 Ute father/son duo of Paul and Alex Fougere (Holden VE Ute) who rounded out the podium.
A late failure on the pit straight for the BMW 135i of John Thomson and Oliver Shepherd – when they were running a clear second – saw them fall agonisingly short of the podium to promote the Kroef’s and Fougere’s up one spot each.
There were also issues for a number of other contenders including the quick Honda Integra of Antony Te Rito and Brent Hay. They’d shown solid pace all weekend and were in the mix up front only to face unfortunate reliability issues at various points throughout the race.
They looked to bounce back on multiple occasions and had charged through the field to work their way back to sixth with 30 minutes remaining. It proved a bridge to far for the duo as they were forced to retreat to the lane with further work to be undertaken.
With two of the top three qualifiers gone the race belonged to Whitburn and Ball who came home three laps ahead of the field.
It had been the E92 in the lead since the start, pulling clear off pole to take the lead into Turn 1 with the field all sensibly slotting in behind, the BMW 135i falling into second with the Integra hot on its heels.
Greg Kroef took the reigns early in the Falcon Ute and immediately got to work putting time on the pack as he tussled early with the Porsche Cayman 3.4 of Marco Holtriger for fourth.
With just 20 minutes gone on the clock the front the BMW and Ingra, which had worked to second , had put 15 seconds on the field.
Behind was where the battles were unfolding, the Toyota 86s of Thomas Mallard/Dion Pitt and Cormac Murphy/Clay Richards locking horns for multiple laps with two quick Ssanyong Utes in a tight four car chain.
A rhythm was quick to set as Whitburn extended his lead out to 21 seconds just after the half hour mark.
Having worked past Kroef, Holtriger was having a great run in his Porsche and made up solid ground on those ahead, catching the Thomson/Shepherd BMW and beginning to apply pressure for third.
The Ford FG Ute of Simon Ussher/Jake Stoneman had also made good gains and began to work on getting past Kroef as the race approached 40 minutes.
A Safety Car after 43 minutes for a stranded vehicle saw the field consolidate with a number of teams capitalising on the chance of a cheap pit stop.
The leaders were quick to pounce on the opportunity, boxing for their compulsory three minute stop under yellow flag conditions.
They returned to the track in sixth, Holtringer inheriting the lead over the Integra of Te Rito/Hay with the Kroefs up to third with fellow V8 Ute competitors Fougere and Monteith close behind.
The Thomson/Shepherd 135i also stopped under yellows and slotted back into seventh, one spot behind their fellow BMW competitors.
Whitburn returned to the lead ss the clock passed the hour mark and racers around made their stops and from there never looked back despite running on fumes for the final laps.
There was still plenty over drama to unfold behind, however, with Holtrigter the next to withdraw from second spot as the race entered its final quarter.
This elevated Thomson/Shepherd back to second with the Kroefs in third.
With time running out fuel became a factor for a number of drivers, the old “splash-and-dash” technique causing brief interruptions to the order before it eventually returned to how it was.
Entering the final lap the race was Ball’s to lose, three laps to the good but coasting in parts to ensure they made it to the flag.
They managed to do so, but it was a contrast in fortunes for the Thomson/Shepherd 135i in second which suffered a failure on the last lap and sending bits of their undercarriage rolling down pit straight. They immediately pulled up which allowed the two Utes to come through.
This also moved Mallard and Pitt, who had driven the wheels off their Toyota 86, up to fourth and the rest of the field also gaining a position.
Both Mallard and Pitt proved consistency is key, running clean and consistent to work their way through the top 10 as others struggled around. The reliability of a Toyota 86 also worked in their favour, the only cause for concern being a smaller fuel tank which required a splash-and-dash in the final stages.
Another class of cars known for their durability is that of the V8 Utes, Simon Ussher and Jake Stoneman proving that to finish in fifth, one spot to the good over Stu Monteith and Daniel Ludlam.
The #100 Honda Civic of Chris Wall and Layton Hammond was another car which packed a solid punch, briefly running near the front before it too became a victim of a problem with the left rear.
The team worked some magic in the lane to get the car back on track and were appropriately awarded with seventh place.
Behind them was the first of the Ssanyong Utes, Deon Cooper and Rick Cooper Jnr. putting in 83 laps for eighth.
Fellow One and Two Hour double-duty competitors Dane Fisher and Rob Steele finished ninth in their tidy Suzuki Swift whilst the second Toyota 86, of Murphy and Pitt, finished 10th.
- July 10, 2023