Craig Baird and Michael Almond sealed victory in the Highlands 101 in a dominant performance in the final round of the 2016 CAMS Australian Endurance Championship, but it proved an agonizing afternoon for championship leaders Nathan Morcom and Grant Denyer.
Topping the standings heading into the race, an overheating issue on the McLaren saw the car fall into limp mode midway through the race.
Morcom and Denyer then nursed the car to the flag, holding on to eighth place to secure the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship.
For Denyer, it was his first championship since he won a state go-karting championship in 1997.
“The car was in limp mode all day and we were two seconds a lap off the racing pace,” said Denyer.
“We were a shot duck and all we were doing was try to get it to the finish. We did it and it’s bloody amazing!”
Baird and Almond combined to claim pole position before Baird raced off into an early lead before handing the car over to Almond at the first round of stops.
A stirring performance from the debutante, who hadn’t driven the Mercedes-AMG GT3 before the weekend, saw Almond extend their advantage ahead of a nail-biting finale which saw Baird and Greg Murphy battling it out in the final laps.
The victory came two years after Baird lost victory in the same event, almost in sight of the flag when the Erebus-run Mercedes he shared with Richard Muscat ran out of fuel on the final lap.
“It’s nice to be able to win this one for Erebus,” Baird beamed post-race.
“We had a good start, a good strategy, and the team worked really well together.
“The main thing for me is we picked up a couple of trophies for [team owner] Scott Taylor.
“It’s just fantastic for him after injuring his leg at the Gold Coast.”
In second place were Murphy and Tony Quinn, the Aston Martin Vantage demonstrating enormous pace in the hands of both drivers.
Quinn started the race before handing the car over to Murphy after 55 laps, the veteran racer then setting about chasing down the leading Mercedes.
Though he closed the gap to just a handful of seconds, race leader Baird was able to lift his own pace and react to see the two cars split by 3.2-seconds at the flag.
The all-Miedecke Aston Martin of father-and-son combination Andrew and George rounded out the podium in a strong fight back from the team following a crash which had ruled them out of the CAMS Australian GT Championship on Saturday.
The Miedecke Stone Group entry proved a contender throughout, qualifying well to start third with Andrew Miedecke behind the wheel before son George took over for the run home.
Klark Quinn’s race ended early when the Darrell Lea entry began overheating and spent a long period on pit lane which ultimately saw the car running but unclassified at the flag.
Victory for Baird and Almond made them the fourth different winner across the four round CAMS Australian Endurance Championship, and ends a massive double-header weekend of racing at the spectacular Highlands Motorsport Park which saw the pairing also win the CAMS Australian GT Championship round on Saturday.
The Highlands 101 was the final event of the 2016 Australian GT season, the largest in the category’s history as it expanded to three separate competitions across 13 race weekends and two countries.
Teams and drivers will now head back to Australia to recharge ahead of a 2017 season that is already shaping up to be bigger and better yet.