Motorsport: Highlands 101 attracting international interest
More than 60 drivers compete in some of the fastest GT3 supercars in the world
The Highlands 101 endurance race continues to attract international interest from factory GT3 drivers around the world.
Kiwi V8 Supercar star Shane van Gisbergen and co-driver Klark Quinn won the third edition on Sunday at Highlands Motorsport Park.
New Zealand’s newest motor racing circuit has received high praise for its spectacular landscape and challenging layout since its 2012 opening.
Forty minutes east of Queenstown, the Cromwell circuit each year hosts the Festival of Speed and the Australian GT Championship’s Highlands 101.
In the enduro, more than 60 professional and amateur drivers compete in some of the fastest GT3 spec supercars in the world for 101 laps.
V8 Supercar driver Fabian Coulthard won the 2013 inaugural event alongside circuit owner Tony Quinn. Coulthard, who spends most of his racing year in Australia, believes the event is one of the best in Australasia.
“It’s an awesome facility. To be able to have something like this in New Zealand is awesome,” he said.
Kiwi V8 Supercar driver Fabian Coulthard. Picture/Velocity NZ.
“To be able to bring these cars over and to run on a circuit of this standard in New Zealand is cool.”
For Coulthard, the opportunity to compete in New Zealand usually comes once a year at the annual V8 Supercar event in Pukekohe. However, the Highlands 101 represents a prime opportunity for professional drivers to let their hair down while enjoying the local scenery.
“The levels of stress are definitely less. V8 Supercars — for me, that’s my job; whereas this is serious, but a little more enjoyable without the stresses ofracing a V8 Supercar. It’s good to be able to come back.”
German GT3 ace Christopher Mies, who claimed the 2015 Australian GT3 title over the weekend. Picture/ Velocity NZ.
Factory Audi GT3 driver Christopher Mies was one of several international drivers who came to New Zealand for this year’s race.
The former Blancpain GT3 Champion and Bathurst 12- Hour winner has had the burning desire to race Downunder.
“It was always my goal to race here [in the 101]. I was given the chance to race here, so I took it,” he explained.
One of the several unique elements of the Highlands 101 is the Le Mans-style race start. Picture/Velocity NZ.
Following three successful years, the event is well on its way to securing itself as New Zealand’s definitive endurance event. Although the course is still in its infancy, some — including Mies — have likened it to Australia’s historic Mt Panorama.
“It combines all the good parts of race tracks all over the world and puts it into one race track, so it’s quite interesting. It’s a fun track.”
The Highlands 101 is to become even bigger next year, when regulation changes will introduce several newer GT3 supercars to the Australian GT Championship. Audi’s new 2016 Audi R8 LMS GT3 and Ferrari’s 2016 488 GT3 are most likely to feature next year. Alongside the current cars, they will allow the event to grow to one of Australasia’s most illustrious endurance events.