Blog: a brief tour of the Highlands GT pit paddock
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This could be the last event at Cromwell's incredible Highlands Motorsport Park facility for a lot of us.
Certainly I'm looking at it wondering what will pull me back in. And it's a sad conversation, because this circuit is one we all look forward to every year. It is uniquely picturesque, surrounded in beautiful roads (perfect for giving rental cars a good hiding), and quite simply there's no other track in New Zealand that comes close to it.
The CAMS Australian Endurance Championship (the long-form version of the Australian GT Championship, for those who haven't kept up) announced that this year would be their last racing here. For now, anyway.
It ends a four-year tenure of GT races at Highlands, and raises the question of where the future lies.
We arrived here late yesterday, with still enough sun in the sky to see all the snowed-upon mountains (plenty of 'Remarkable' puns were thrown around of course).
Despite the 'last ever' tagline, the entry list for this weekend's event is a paltry 15 cars. Plenty has unfolded in the background of this year's AGT series, with numerous teams pulling the pin on their campaigns throughout the year.
In the absence of quantity, one must look for quantity. And easily the biggest story this weekend is the combination of drivers behind the wheel of the second 'Quinn' McLaren 650S GT3. One is defending Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen, while the other is star drifter 'Mad Mike' Whiddett.
Van Gisbergen of course has done all this before, having won this race a couple of years ago. Whiddett's 'done' GT racing, sure, but is still a relative noobie. The desire to challenge one's self and explore the deep end is something consistent in both drivers. Paired together for the first time, they'll be a force to be reckoned with. Especially with a safety car or two.
Beyond them, the field is littered with Kiwi drivers. Dominic Storey topped today's practice running with Aussie co-driver Peter Hackett, Matt Halliday and Andrew Bagnall campaign the only 'New Zealand' entry on the grid, and Andrew Waite teams up with circuit owner Quinn on a track that he knows like the back of his hand.
Most intriguing of all potentially are series leaders Jaxon Evans [above] and Tim Miles. They're both Kiwis, and they've won two out of the three rounds of the series thus far. Yet, you'd struggle to find more than a household or two in New Zealand that would be aware of their feats.
To a degree the success is because of a favourable seeding arrangement that results in them sitting in pit lane for shorter periods during stops than other cars. And that to an end is because of the duo's lack of profile at the beginning of the year.
Now though, they're two of the best in the Australian Carrera Cup series, as well as here in the GTs. Logically, they should be the favourites to win on Sunday. Not bad when there's a car in the field with 'van Gisbergen' written on it.
Outside of the AGT 'stars', there's a handful of other classes here. Most amusing on this particular Friday was the hubbub around the single-make Radical sports-car series.
Not particularly because of what was happening on track, but rather for the off-track weirdness of Police checking over most of the grid for Australian soil and bugs and other parasites that may have snuck over the border inside the car's bodywork.
Then there's all the other exceptional cars simply sitting around. Porsche appears to have a lot of love here, judging by the Speedster (ahem, replica) and Cayman GT4s populating the space at the end of pit lane.
The pit lane here is open and free, and on quiet Fridays like these a casual fan might be convinced that they're able to just strut in and share a yarn about the day with the drivers. They can't, but it's not far adrift of the mood here.
There's no 'woe is me', there's no uptight motorsport secrecy. There's just happy faces and banter.
Hopefully, for a few more years yet.
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