Highlands Motorsport Park throbes to the sound of big engines
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Exotic race cars join big names at Highland Park this weekend
Cromwell’s Highlands motorsport park will host a variety of GT cars for the final round of the Australian championship, as well as the Highlands 101 endurance event. The races run back-to-back this weekend.
Nearly 30 exotic race cars — including Ferraris, McLarens and Lamborghinis — have been shipped to the event from overseas and will join some of the most talented GT-pilots in the world, as well as a selection of drivers who boast experience in other high-ranking categories.
V8 Supercar stars will make the trip, including Fabian Coulthard, Garth Tander, Shane van Gisbergen, Andre Heimgartner, Warren Luff, David Russell, Jack LeBrocq, Dale Wood, Steve Owen, and Tony D’Alberto.
Highlands Motorsport Park near Cromwell. Picture/Matthew Hansen.
Many other former V8 Supercar, touring car, and sports-car drivers will also be competing.
They include former Bathurst 1000 and Australian touring car champion John Bowe, Kiwi Porsche specialist and New Zealand touring car driver Craig Baird, Australian television personality and 2015 Australian GT race-winner Grant Denyer, international GT3 champions Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase, and Australasian motorsport magnate and Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn.
Among the favourites to win will be the all-New Zealand Trass Family Motorsport (TFM) drivers Jono Lester and Graeme Smyth. Based in Parnell, Auckland, the squad and their Ferrari 458 GT3 have been strong at every round of the 2015 Australian GT championship, but are yet to seal a victory despite coming close on several occasions.
But 12 months after making their debut in the category at the last Highlands 101, Lester’s ambitions for the team are clear. Upon being asked if he thinks a win can be achieved this weekend at the unique circuit he replied: “Yes, absolutely, and it’s been a long time coming.”
“The handicap penalty system makes it hard for us to break through with a result despite taking four from five poles this year and setting a few category records. The Quinns have home-track advantage and are boosted by van Gisbergen and Tander. Mies and Haase will be super quick in their Audis — but this is a Pro-Am game so many star-led line-ups will struggle on aggregate.”
For Lester, the Highlands 101 is a highlight of the Australian GT season — and not just because it’s the only opportunity he gets to race on home soil in front of his friends and family.
“It’s special to race at home, but even more so at an event of this level and a circuit like Highlands. The experience as a whole is what make it such a highlight of the season for me — being able to squash two GT3 events into a single weekend at one of the most fan- and family-friendly facilities in the world, [plus] a few days in Queenstown either side,” explained Lester.
“[The track has] got a bit of everything, and that’s exactly what Quinn set out to do — combining some of his favourite corners from world-famous circuits into his own design. It can bite you hard, though, if you don’t respect it, particularly the southern loop, and the bridge overpass where the curbs and “jump” can rip the bumpers and diffusers right out from under you.”
The Australian GT take to the circuit today for races at 10.55am and 2pm.
The teams will then spend the night preparing for tomorrow’s Highlands 101, which starts at 1.20pm.
There will also be a number of support classes racing today, including the Highlands Euromarque class, Super Bike demonstrations, and the 60-minute Highlands 1+01 mini-enduro, which features 27-car grid of local drivers and cars.
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