MAN WHO REVIVED THE RACE WILL GIVE IT A GO HIMSELF
For the first time in eight years the Race to the Sky revs up its 14.5km dirt track in the Cardrona Valley next weekend.
It is the world’s longest gravel race now that Pikes Peak, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, has been sealed.
Raced on the private road to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, the event has been resurrected by Highlands Motorsport Park owner and developer Tony Quinn, who says: “The aim is to re-establish the hill climb as an iconic Kiwi event and then to take it from there.”
Quinn is a useful tarmac and Targa competitor but says gravel bashing isn’t his forte. However, one of the best racecar builders in Australasia has crafted him something that might be able to take on the 135-turn, 1km climb.
Quinn challenged Paul Ceprnich of Pace Innovations — builders of the V8 Supercars Car of the Future and New Zealand V8 SuperTourer chassis — to build a car capable of completing the climb in under eight minutes. The result is a 630kW, twin-turbo Nissan VR38, V6-powered, Ford Focus-skinned beast.
“The car will be here the Wednesday before the event and I’ve booked the Highlands track to run it in,” said Quinn. “[Former V8 Supercars driver] Paul Morris and Paul Ceprnich have both driven it in Australia and say it’s fine.
“It went in a straight line and there were no oil or water leaks, but it is a brand new car that hasn’t been built before. As long as the brakes work and it stops we’ll be fine, and it’s always good to get the car builder to have the first drive.
“I’m going to give it a crack and as long as I beat Grant’s time I’ll be happy.”
He was referring to Grant Aitken, who ran the event for 10 years and was never able to race. This year, he can.
Eight-time champion Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima has been tempted back for another go at the mountain. The 64-year-old will bring a new car — a 3-litre, V6 twin turbo-powered, Toyota GT86 lookalike. Tajima set the course record in 2006.
The event has six divisions. There are three for cars — international hill climb, national hill climb and rally course — with eight subcategories, and one division each for off-roaders, quad bikes and motorcycles. The King of the Mountain Race to the Sky sees the 10 fastest competitors from any division in one last race up the mountain.
Another who’ll be blasting up the hill is former World Rally Championship driver Alister McRae. The Aussie-based Scot will be in Possum Bourne’s WRC car. Bourne was killed in a collision on the track while preparing for the 2003 Race to the Sky.