Thursday Five: the coolest cars of the Highlands 101
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The five coolest cats of this weekend's exotic supercar extravaganza
This weekend’s Highlands 101 ties a neat bow at the end of what’s been a mega few weeks for Kiwi motorsport fans.
It follows on from the Hampton Downs 101 and ITM Auckland SuperSprint. But while all three events being crammed into three weeks is cause for drooling from many race fans, it’s created a perfect launch pad for others to compare the different categories to one another.
The Supercars Championship is great. It’s hugely competitive, the racing is full of old school panel rubbing aggression, and those behind the wheel are stars. However what it doesn’t bring to the table is diversity.
The twin 101 events, being part of the Australian GT Championship’s endurance calendar, feature a full roster of delicious GT3-spec machines. There’s parity between each, but they’re still different enough to engage the more mechanically minded punter.
I’m certainly not that punter, but I can appreciate the intricacies of these beasts; I kind of have to if I’m spending whole weekends with them. So for today’s Thursday Five we celebrate the five coolest GT3 weapons you can see this weekend in Cromwell.
One of the newest cars on the grid, the AMG GT3 is also one of the most brutal — both to look at and to listen to.
The SLS GT3 it replaces used to sound like a tractor on fire played in fast forward. This takes similar brutish concepts of sound and refines them, before pairing them to a more restrained and compact body shape.
There are two AMG GT3s on the grid, both with a Kiwi driver behind the wheel. Former Carrera Cup champion Craig Baird will pilot one, while Dominic Storey will drive the other (the cars co-driven by Michael Almond and Peter Hackett respectively). They will both be in for a fighting chance of victory too.
Porsche 911 GT3-R
If the AMG GT3 is a blood-coated axe, then the Porsche 911 GT3-R is an unassuming surgical needle full of mercury.
Not that I'm even sure what would happen if you injected someone with mercury, but I imagine the process would be deeply unpleasant.
Anyway, the point is that the GT3-R is a much softer car than many of its rivals — in the way it looks, the way it sounds, and supposedly in the way it drives.
It also carries a huge racing history. To drive a 911 in any top tier international category today still comes with a hefty amount of pride, to know your achievements will further add to that same tapestry.
Only one current GT3-R currently competes in the series (in the hands of Walkinshaw GT3's John Martin and Duvashen Padayachee), though two other older 997-spec cars are out there too.
Aston Martin Vantage GT3
The Aston seems almost forgotten among all the newfangled rigs on the grid. That's potentially because we've become accustomed to their presence; the Vantage GT3 looking a little pre-historic next to its much newer rivals on track. This despite the Vantage being one of the most beautiful cars ever made, ever.
Where does it make up the margins? The engine note of course. It's the only V12 on the grid, and boy does it howl like an absolute animal. The 6.0-liter unit seemingly revs forever, creating a distinct noise that reverberates around the circuit.
Though even cooler still is the DBR9, which, hand on heart, is the best-sounding GT3 car I've ever had the deep pleasure of having penetrate my ear holes. With Richard Moore's entry not making it down south, only two Vantage GT3s will compete at Highlands; the Greg Murphy/Tony Quinn example and the father-son car of Andrew and George Miedecke that won round two of the season.
BMW M6 GT3
BMW's Z4 GT3 was one of the highest revving V8s in GT3 racing, but for the M6 GT3 that replaced it late last year the German marque went the other way — replacing revs with a pair of turbochargers.
The result is a four-wheeled beast that was a bit of a Marmite car at Hampton Downs. Responses to its noise were a mixture of nerdish glee for the ringing sound of the twin turbos, and confusion as to whether it was a four, six, or turbo-charged eight from those who had clearly expected some hairy chested Bavarian beast.
Personally I like the variety the noise brings. We have a bevy of Ferrari 458s to cover us for high-revving V8s (a car I was very tempted to include on this list), so why not throw in a twin turbo for good measure.
Just the one M6 GT3 will race this weekend; piloted by expat New Zealander Steve Richards and co-driver Max Twigg.
Nissan Nismo GT-R GT3
Parked up next to anything else on this list, apart from maybe the M6, the Nissan Nismo GT-R looks huge and daft. Like parking a Big Mac next to a Tic Tac. It's a huge car compared to most, serving to underline just how wide the scope of GT3's regulations can be.
The turbocharged six-cylinder Nissan carries an engine note that's all too familiar to those who have followed motorsport in this part of the world over the decades, particularly through the early ’90s when the ‘Godzilla’ R32 GT-R ruled the roost in the Australian Touring Car Championship before Group A was given a bullet.
Next to the flamboyance of the Ferraris and Aston Martins, and the muscles of the AMG GT3, the Nissan is Japanese efficiency to a T — going about its on-track business with minimal fuss and care, yet always sitting somewhere near the front.
Two Nissans will compete at Highlands — the factory effort of Michael Caruso and Matt Simmons, and the locally run entry of Clark Proctor and Andrew Porter.