Continuing the rich vein of form, the McLaren 650S GT3 has won a further brace of championship titles in one weekend. Customer teams Darrell Lea and Tekno Autosports claimed the CAMS Australian GT Championship and the Australian Endurance Championship respectively, marking the ninth and tenth titles won by McLaren to date during the 2016 GT season.
The season-ending race weekend for the two series took place at Highlands Motorsport Park in New Zealand. The Australian GT Championship double-header title decider, followed by the Australian Endurance Championship finale – the Highlands 101.
Klark Quinn, driving for customer team Darrell Lea, arrived at the final races of the season leading the championship, and his third Australian GT title was secured with a podium finish in the second race. It was a dramatic way to end the season, as Quinn retired from Race 1 after a last lap collision with his title rival while leading.
With his title hopes recharged after a penalty to the Race 1 winner just before the start of Race 2, Quinn made a good start in the #37 650S GT3, and took the lead after the round of pit stops. As the race progressed, and the championship well within his grasp, he did not risk his chances of losing out on the championship and crossed the line to take P3. Having started P6, fellow McLaren drivers Nathan Antunes and Elliot Barber in the #61 Tekno Autosports 650S GT3 secured the overall race win after a dominant performance in the closing stages of the race.
Success for McLaren and the 650S GT3 continued the following day as Tekno Autosports pairing of Grant Denyer and Nathan Morcom finished the Highlands 101 endurance race with a solid top 10 finish. Despite a mechanical issue during the race, the pair brought the #59 650S GT3 home in P8 to secure the inaugural Australian Endurance Championship.
Both Morcom and Denyer battled through the problem, but a lack of pace in the closing stages of the 101-lap race forced Morcom to pit with five laps remaining to ensure the car made the finish. The heroic effort capped an extremely strong season for the duo, who won the opening round of the championship and scored a further three solid points finishes to keep them in the title hunt until the final round. The result marks the tenth championship title for McLaren during the 2016 season; the most successful campaign for McLaren in GT racing to date.
McLaren GT Factory Drivers Rob Bell, Côme Ledogar, Shane van Gisbergen and Alvaro Parente claimed victories in Europe and North America as the 650S GT3 enjoyed a strong weekend. The race-focused version of Super Series model secured a dramatic win at the opening round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in Monza, Italy, a double podium in the Pirelli World Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park in the USA and pole position and a win at the first weekend of the International GT Open championship in Estoril, Portugal.
In the all-Factory Driver line-up #58 McLaren 650S GT3 of customer team Garage 59, Bell started the three-hour race P16 alongside the all-McLaren GT Academy Driver trio of Alex Fontana, Struan Moore and Andrew Watson in P15. The experienced Brit quickly fought through the pack, climbing as high as P3 during his stint, before a quick pit stop by the team vaulted the car into the lead with Ledogar aboard. Frenchman Ledogar – making his competitive debut as a Factory Driver with McLaren GT – drove faultlessly through traffic and retained the lead against one of the most competitive GT grids, before van Gisbergen took over for one of the most exciting and closest finishes the championship has ever seen.
During the final stint of the race, the rapid van Gisbergen defended the lead as he negotiated back-markers around the historic 3.6-mile Italian circuit. As the chequered flag fell after 96 hard-fought laps and three hours of racing, the New Zealand-born driver brought the #58 650S GT3 home to secure the top step of the podium with a winning margin of just 0.341s, and score the team its first win in the Championship.
In the United States, fellow Factory Driver Alvaro Parente enjoyed a successful weekend at the wheel of the 650S GT3. Parente, driving for customer team K-PAX Racing, won Round 6 of the Pirelli World Challenge, and finished second the following morning in Round 7 at the challenging Barber Motorsports Park circuit in Alabama. The results place Parente firmly in the running for the Drivers’ Title.
A third win for the 650S GT3 was secured at the opening weekend of the International GT Open, as customer team Garage 59 enjoyed further success in the second race at Estoril in Portugal. Kevin Estre and Alexander West secured pole position in the #88 650S GT3, and the French-Swedish pair looked set for a convincing victory until a misjudged overtake by a competitor ended the charge on the final lap. Charging to the line, the #59 650S GT3 of Michael Benham and Duncan Tappy reacted quickly to the incident with the British pair taking the lead in another dramatic race finish.
Commenting on the result at Monza, McLaren GT Factory Driver Côme Ledogar explained: ’It is a dream come true to win on my debut for McLaren as a Factory Driver, and even more so at a place as special as Monza. Garage 59 did a fantastic job all weekend and didn’t put a foot wrong through the race. The work by the pitcrew which saw us jump the leaders was a key moment for us, so credit must go to them. I’m also really thankful for the job my teammates did during the race – Rob (Bell) made a great start, fighting through the pack, and Shane put on a stunning display of defensive driving at the end. The car was perfect and in my stint I just had to keep it clean. I can’t wait to visit Silverstone next month and continue our title challenge.’