Having long-distance races as part of a broader series or championship chase is not a new thing in top-level motor sport
Whether it’s getting points for winning the Bathurst 1000, Indy 500 or Le Mans 24 Hour, races of a longer duration add diversity to the season—and it’s very much the case in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Australia presented by Pirelli.
Founded in 2011, the Jim Richards Endurance Trophy was added to the GT3 Cup Challenge schedule in a bid to further spice up one of Australia’s top one-make series.
More racing meant more laps, more time behind the wheel and more experience for drivers at all levels contesting the series.
For the young guns involved, it was a chance to do the kind of duration they’d get during a Supercars race or even the longer Carrera Cup races, which essentially is the next level up the Porsche pyramid.
In a series filled with short and sharp sprint races, all of a sudden tyre and race management would play a bigger role in the outcome.
For the semi-professional drivers and those doing it ‘just for kicks’, it was a chance to get more track time and more enjoyment out of an already enjoyable past time.
The series was named after Richards’ for obvious reasons: The Kiwi-born Australian motor racing hero was one of the best exponents of the art behind long-distance driving.
His seven wins in the Bathurst 1000 plus remarkable accomplishments at Targa Tasmania and other major events mean his CV is amongst the very best in the sport … the fact he remains a Porsche ambassador adds to the prestige.
“I always enjoyed the challenge of long-distance racing,” Richards said.
“There’s a real skill into making sure you can manage the car, the tyres and everyone around you in a longer race. It’s something I really found very satisfying throughout my career and was fortunate enough to have a bit of success doing.
“It’s great to have something like the Jim Richards Endurance Trophy named after me and it’s great to see the guys having a go.”
Into its seventh year this season, winning ‘The Jim’ has become arguably as prestigious as winning the whole series.
Staged over three 45-50 minute races across the three rounds in the middle stanza of the overall series, the races have become well known for being highly competitive and quite compelling to witness—let alone compete in.
Queenslander Roger Lago, still the only double GT3 Cup Challenge series winner, was the first to win the series when he took out the three-round trophy in 2011, while taking the overall title that year as well.
Victorian Kane Rose won it in 2012, while Richard Muscat proved his capabilities via a strong performance the following year.
Perhaps one of the most significant ‘Jim’ victories came the following year, when Fraser Ross won the series overall along with the enduro title.
The Ross and Richards’ families had been long-time friends, adding significance to an already important title for the Victorian driver.
“I’ve wanted the Jim Richards Endurance Trophy since the start of the year,” Ross said at the time.
“Jim Richards is a long-time friend of the family and has been a mentor of mine, so it was really important to win this award.”
The last two seasons have been significant in that they’ve been won by drivers who weren’t able to win the outright title.
James Abela sealed the endurance win in 2015 via a consistent three-race performance and troubles in the longer races for fellow outright contenders, Ryan Simpson and Dylan O’Keefe.
A year later and the title went to McElrea Racing once again, this time Jaxon Evans doing the business—though Sonic rival Hamish Hardeman would go on to win the overall title.
“The longer races are good fun; it’s a good test to see how consistent and level-headed you can remain instead of just having one lap speed,” Evans said.
Both drivers, like Ross, O’Keefe and others before them, have found added value in experiencing the Jim Richards Enduro races too. It’s more akin to the level of competition and distance found in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia competition. It just adds to the level of preparation for the younger drivers clamouring for a career in the sport.
In fact, Carrera Cup will introduce its own version of ‘The Jim’ in the final three rounds of this year’s title race, mirroring the same format introduced in GT3 Cup seven seasons ago.
The 2017 ‘Jim’ started at Winton last month, with Jordan Love powering to a comfortable victory and enhancing his overall series winning prospects in the process.
But such is the nature of longer-distance driving it would not be wise to lock him in as a winner just yet – such is the unpredictability of ‘The Jim’.
Just as all good longer-distance racing should be.