Video of the GT Australia crash mentioned in this article can be viewed HERE.

Trass Family Motorsport, New Zealand’s Ferrari racing team, have experienced the full spectrum of motorsport’s jubilant highs and crushing lows at the season opening Australian GT Championship round, the Clipsal 500 Adelaide. In only their second Australian GT event, TFM opened its 2015 account on the streets of Adelaide in the best possible fashion by comfortably topping the practice times in their Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, driven by Jono Lester.

Takapuna-based Lester showed the promise of the young Kiwi team alongside driving partner Paul Kelly of Christchurch, and with newfound support from the crew of ANZAC’s at Maranello Motorsport the pair went into the 34-car qualifying run with high hopes.

Lester led out in the red TFM Ferrari and battled in the opening stanza with the Audi R8 of German Factory pilot Christopher Mies, and V8 Supercar star Dean Canto’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage. The trio were separated by fractions of a second, with Lester prevailing to outgun Mies by just 4/100ths seconds, and secure TFM’s first ever pole position.

TFM-Adelaide-AGTRnd1-trophiesThree races follow with two 30 minute solo races – one for each driver – and a shared 60-minute race in between. Before racing began, calculators were called upon to determine the varying pit stop time penalties applied to drivers as per Australian GT’s ‘CPS Pit Stop’ rules.

These rules were unpopular with many after a revision for the 2015 season copping harsher penalties for Professional seeded drivers. Across the four seeding levels, CPS is designed to to theoretically offer all competitors a fair winning chance, however it soon became apparent that a mammoth task lay ahead as Lester carried the maximum seeding penalty of a stationary 57-second pit stop into race one (30 mins).

Leading away from the start, Lester used the clear air to quickly built a comfortable 4-second gap over Canto, before a safety car intervention went against TFM, with Lester missing the opening of the pit window by just two seconds. An extra lap behind the safety car relegated Lester to a lowly 32nd place after taking his compulsory stop.

Determined to salvage a result in a frantic six lap sprint to the finish, the young Kiwi put on a masterclass in overtaking to pass 28 cars en route to a 4th place result, reiterating the raw speed of the TFM Ferrari with the fastest lap of the race. The result gave Kelly a second row start for race two (60 mins) and his first ever race in a Ferrari. Despite practice interruptions allowing Kelly only six completed laps of the difficult street circuit, Kelly looked right at home among the tough competition, improving his speed and confidence with every lap to pit at the halfway mark well inside the top ten.

With a massive 114 seconds stationary pit stop time to swap out with Lester, the pair stunned onlookers by demonstrating their unique Kiwi humour, taking a smartphone ‘selfie’ with the puzzled crowd as a backdrop and causing a wave of reaction among race fans and media across the world. It was anything but laughter when Lester rejoined the race however, building on Kelly’s innings to charge back through the field in a similar fashion to the first race and recovering from 17th to secure TFM’s first Australian GT podium with a third place finish.

With momentum on their side TFM were enthusiastic Kelly’s solo 30 minute race to round out the weekend, and the field led away with the Kiwi, best known for his Porsche Carerra Cup exploits, in third position.

Entering the famous opening chicane for the first time, the field filed through on cold tyres with Kelly followed the leaders across the raised kerbs, when the car gripped awkwardly on landing and violently speared off the circuit into the tyre barriers. Bouncing back into traffic, the stricken car sustained heavy blows from a number of fast-approaching cars in the bottle-necked entry to turn three. The TFM Ferrari sustained serious front and rear damage in the accident, however Kelly miraculously escaped with just minor bruising, a testament to the safety of both the circuit and the Ferrari itself.

“I am clearly very disappointed with the race three incident,” Kelly tells us of his weekend. “I landed awkwardly over the turn two kerbs and the rest is history. I must personally thank Gerald Trass and the entire TFM team for their understanding and to the circuit medical staff for their assistance also. I’m humbled with the many messages of support I’ve received from fellow drivers since the weekend and I’m looking forward to starting a fresh at Phillip Island.”

It was a crushing blow for TFM in just their third 458 GT3 outing, however it has not deterred a return for round two of the championship for the Phillip Island 101, and the regrouping phase is already well underway. This process is aided by the grace of a lengthy 12 week break before racing resumes, and there is still all to fight for with TFM still finding the overall podium in third despite their DNF (did not finish).

It was a weekend of mixed emotions for Jono Lester, “The weekend had an emotional and gut wrenching finish. We are all so relieved Paul walked away, as a car can be fixed but a friend cannot. The car did it’s job in saving PK from harm and we will take a huge lesson from this accident. We can’t forget the list of successes and positives though. We’ve got the most vibrant team culture I’ve ever come across, which makes all the better our awesome single lap and race pace, the team’s first pole position, and our first race and event podiums in Australian GT. I am personally most pleased with the pole, as historically I’ve always raced far better than I’ve qualified. It’s great to tick that box, and my job was made easy with such a well prepared race car. It’s a huge confidence boost for a driver to hustle without fear or uncertainty. I know we will be even stronger at Phillip Island.”

Thus, trailing points leader Nathan Antunes (Audi) and the McLaren shared by Tony & Klark Quinn, TFM remain in genuine contention with plenty of racing to look forward to at the five remaining rounds across Australasia. Capping off TFM’s Clipsal 500 experience were the proudly displayed messages of support for the New Zealand Black Caps Cricket team, taking on and beating Australia in World Cup pool play on Saturday. Outnumbered in the Australian GT paddock, the TFM Ferrari bravely and proudly adorned ‘GO THE BLACK CAPS’ messages across the bonnet and front bumper of the #27 Ferrari.

Ben Potter

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