Kiwi Ferrari team aims to finish season on a high at Highlands

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

The team, with drivers Jono Lester and Graeme Smyth, returns to the scene of their debut race meeting with their Ferrari 458 GT3 when they head to Highlands for this year’s Australian GT (AGT) two-race finale and Highlands 101 endurance race taking place 13 to 15 November.

“The car arrived to us ex-AF Corse just a week before last year’s Highlands 101 and we rallied to prepare ourselves for the event, only starting the engine for the first time on the morning of our practice at Highlands!” says Lester who currently holds sixth place on the AGT drivers’ championship points-table.

Lester and Smyth – aged 25 and 24 respectively, one of the youngest driver pairings in AGT – have proved they’re a combination to be reckoned with this season. With Lester at the fore, they’ve secured four pole positions in five rounds and set AGT lap records against the intensely competitive 36 car-strong AGT field.

“We need to snag a race win,” Lester says of the two 60-minute races which comprise the final AGT round. “It’s eluded us all season despite four pole positions, numerous podiums and two lap records. The results don’t quite reflect the speed of TFM this season; some instances outside our control have had dire effect on our points’ haul. Overall it’s been a coming of age season for the reputation of the team and both Graeme and myself as drivers.”

Switching focus from Saturday’s AGT final to Sunday’s 101-lap enduro, the entries for which include the AGT field plus an array of eligible, fast cars from around New Zealand, Lester rates TFM’s chances of a good result.

“I absolutely love endurance racing,” he says. “It has been my bread and butter for the last few years and I love the wider range of factors that contribute to winning in an endurance race. The mind of a driver, the fitness, and the importance of teamwork are all greatly amplified in this form of racing.

“Our prospects are great. The last 101 at Phillip Island saw us lead the field by close to a lap before a safety car late in the race. We know the Highlands circuit well and it’s the first round this season where Graeme and I will both arrive with previous experience at the circuit, which will be a big help.”

Team owner Gerald Trass is also looking forward to the Highlands round of this year’s AGT.

“Highlands is where our TFM team first experienced GT racing,” says Trass. “It is the also the only New Zealand round in this year’s series so it holds a special place in our hearts. We hope to have many Kiwis fans there so they can cheer a Kiwi team to victory.”

Trass adds: “Our achievements this year as a rookie team in the AGT has encouraged us to return in 2016 and build upon our experiences. The new AGT series format will suit the endurance nature of the car and with a bit more luck we can achieve some good results.”

Alongside the Ferrari 458 GT3s of TFM and other teams, race fans will see one of the most exotic line-ups of race cars seen in New Zealand competing in the hotly-contested AGT final and 101-lap feature race. Europeans like the Lamborghini Gallardo, McLaren 650S GT3, Audi R8 GT3 Ultra, Porsche 997 GT3-R, Mercedes Benz AMG SL and Aston Martin GT3 take on muscle car models like the Camaro GT3.

The Highlands 101 race weekend is the biggest motorsport event of the year at Highlands with exciting race action promised from an array of drivers from all over New Zealand in the supporting 1+01 one-hour race and Euromarque classes. Complementing the on-track action, superbike racer Sloan Frost gets to be the first motorcycle racer to go all out on racing slicks on his Suzuki GSXR1000 superbike to set a new lap record on the 4.1km circuit.

Spectators can also enjoy a special helicopter display featuring a former British Army Air Corps helicopter, a 1960s-built Westland Scout courtesy of the team from Warbirds over Wanaka, and flyboard demonstrations on the Highlands lake.