Lamborghini drivers Roger Lago and David Russell have recorded the Italian marque’s first CAMS Australian Endurance Championship victory in style at the inaugural Hampton Downs 101.
Starting from pole, the JBS Australia duo recovered from a mid-race penalty to reach the chequered flag first, leading home a spirited charged from John Martin and Duvashen Padayachee in the Walkinshaw Racing-prepared Porsche GT3-R.
It followed a thrilling finale to the race which saw an intense battle for the lead between Russell and Graeme Smyth, and race drama which kept the crowd on its feet for much of the race.
After starting from pole, Russell led the opening stages of the 101-lap encounter before a stop shortly after the pit window opened where he handed the car on to Lago.
Many of the leaders opted for the same strategy, stopping around lap 20 mark and installing their co-drivers behind the wheel.
However, in the middle of the opening pit stop phase, the complexion of the race changed, with the first of three brief safety car periods throughout the race.
Having not stopped, race leader Nathan Morcom remained on track as the Tekno Autosports running the championship leader McLaren 650S GT3 long in the first in an ingenious alternate strategy.
It was a calculated risk from the team which reaped huge dividends when Morcom finally handed the car to co-driver Grant Denyer, the pair rejoining in firm contention at the front of the race.
Nissan’s Australian Endurance Championship debut got off to a strong start after Michael Caruso worked his way towards the front in the opening stages, challenging Russell for the lead in the opening phase of the race.
They then moved into the race lead only to have their day cut short following contact for Matt Simmons following contact around mid-distance.
Another entry to fall short was the Richard Moore and Tony Longhurst Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3, which suffered an input shaft failure almost within sight of the chequered flag.
The pair had made strong progress in the second half of the race and ran comfortably within the top ten before crawling to a halt, drawing a final safety car with just a handful of laps remaining.
It was a defining moment in the race, eliminating the advantage Graeme Smyth and Peter Edwards had gained through brilliant strategy calls by the Maranello Motorsport team.
The Ferrari 458 GT3 headed the field with a comfortable lead, Smyth managing the advantage ahead of a charging Russell in the final laps to the flag before the safety car emerged for the stricken Moore.
At the restart Russell quickly began challenging for the lead, taking the lead midway around the 95th lap and going on to claim victory in front of an enormous crowd.
“We fought hard all race,” said Russell. “It’s good to come back from two DNF’s at the start of the season and put in a great result.
“We’re a very small team, they work incredibly hard and I’m just really happy for them. With Roger, we’ve just been chipping away and for us, this is a big win!”
“It’s unbelievable,” enthused Lago, “this is probably the best race we’ve ever done and the best win we’ve ever had.”
Padayachee and Martin ended the day second, moving by Morcom and Smyth as the duo tangled at the Porsche Dipper on the penultimate lap.
The incident left the Ferrari stranded in the middle of the circuit while Morcom had 30-seconds added to his race time.
It meant the championship leaders ended the race fifth, while Garth Tander and Daniel Bilski quietly rose through the field to claim the final podium position.
Klark Quinn and drifting star Mike Whiddett ended the race eighth, one spot back from Peter Hackett and Dominic Storey who lost ground during the pitstop sequence having led the race during the middle stint of the race.
Greg Murphy raced his way to a top ten place finish with Tony Quinn, the pair’s Aston Martin delayed by an incident when the Christopher Mies and Tony Bates Audi suffered a puncture on lap 67.
Father and son duo Andrew and George Miedecke were also caught up in the incident, their Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 taking minor damage which proved sufficient to end their race.
Local pairing Clark Proctor and Andrew Porter put in a fine performance in their first competitive outing in the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.
Consistency throughout the course of the 101-lap encounter saw them end the day in a solid eleventh place, the highest placed New Zealand entry in the event.
Morcom and Denyer continue to head the standings as the Championship now heads to Highlands Motorsport Park for the traditional end of season Highlands 101 on November 11-13.
It will mark the fourth and final round of the 2016 season, and the first time the Highlands 101 has been a championship event since its inception in 2013.