SPEEDY SUBARU COMES IN OFF THE GRAVEL TO TAKE ON THE TARMAC, WRITES COLIN SMITH
The performance car that forged its reputation over almost quarter of a century by sliding through dusty gravel and muddy forests is making a new home on the smooth tarmac and in the neatly manicured grounds of the Highlands Motorsport Park.
The latest Subaru WRX is the performance hardware for a new driving experience at the international-standard facility at Cromwell.
Partnering with the all-wheel-drive marque, the southern circuit has developed the Subaru WRX Experience at Highlands. It is aimed at the adventure tourism market, as a corporate and sales incentive event and also as a Subaru dealer and customer activity.
It puts drivers in the all-wheel-drive 2-litre turbocharged sedans with guidance from professional driving instructors. A 30-minute “teaser” experience is integrated with other Highlands activities and dedicated two-hour “taster” and four-hour “ultimate” programmes are offered.
The programme, developed by Highlands’ professional driver Andrew Waite, was launched last week with a run through of the on-track challenges. Slalom and emergency braking tests will be a basic skills booster as well as showcasing the dynamic capabilities of the WRX.
There are controlled track laps with the opportunity to follow the racing lines of the instructors, and WRX STI hot laps with Highlands’ professional drivers at the wheel as a finisher to the WRX Experience.
Customers must have a good command of English so they can follow the instructions of the tutors and must also hold a full driver’s licence.
A fleet of six WRX sedans is based at Highlands and Subaru is keen to reinforce that the WRX’s all-wheel-drive technology helps to make the driving experience viable in all weather.
Highlands’ chief operating officer Josie Spillane says the goal is to build the WRX Experience into a 150-days-a-year operation, adding to the high-speed Lamborghini and Porsche track-lap experiences, karting, dirt-buggy, laser clay shooting and mini-golf along with the National Motorsport Museum and restaurants at Highlands.
Highlands is keen to see the WRX Experience not being billed as a “motorsport” activity but part of Central Otago’s “Adventure Capital of the World” attractions.
Highlands has expanded the choice of adventure tourism attractions in the Central Otago region since the venue opened in April 2013.
“You don’t have to be a motorsport enthusiast to have a great time at Highlands,” Spillane says.
Subaru will also use the WRX Experience as a key marketing and branding asset.
“The Subaru WRX at Highlands Experience was an idea that came up when we were visiting Highlands last year, with a view to utilising it as a venue for a Subaru event. It has been an exciting six months,” said Wallis Dumper, Subaru of New Zealand managing director.
“For Subaru, Highlands also represents an ideal destination for conferences and events and we look forward to not only bringing our own staff, dealers and prospective buyers to this scenic part of New Zealand but allowing others to enjoy our exhilarating Subaru WRX at Highlands Motorsport Park.”
Dumper said the WRX Experience will have international appeal.
“Automotive distributors and dealers from around the world were stunned to hear New Zealand could enjoy such a premium experience,” he said.
“We are encouraging Subaru customers on a global scale to come and visit.”