Erupting onto the scene: Quinn and the Vulcan
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Meeting the man and his machine
Tony Quinn is a different kind of motorsport profile. A Scottish-flavoured anomaly cocooned in a sea of suits and ties. A supposed loose-cannon wildcard who has difficulty deviating from the finite goals chiselled into his psyche.
But, you already knew that.
Owner of Cromwell's Highlands Motorsport Park, the pet food millionaire's latest purchase, following on from taking over Waikato's Hampton Downs race circuit, is the $4.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan.
Duly named the "Highlands Vulcan", it is one of only 24 in the world but will spend its days in Cromwell where it will sit dormant between violent eruptions of noise and power. The 7-litre V12 all-carbon fibre hypercar joins Quinn's fleet of supercars in Cromwell, including a Lamborghini Huracan, Porsche 911 and an Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
At the reveal last weekend, fans of the Vulcan could pay $5000 for the chance to have Quinn pilot them around the circuit in the sports car that has a top speed of more than 320km/h.
It looks fantastic in photographs, but in person it's beautiful. A perfect marriage of function and form, where every crease, every fin, and every miniscule detail serves a three-pronged purpose. Nothing is just for show, every square millimetre is designed purely for go. Yet it all works together to create one of Aston Martin's most delicious, and somehow most savage looking, vehicles ever.
But, you already knew that too.
“Is it alright if I record this on my phone?” I ask, squeezing into the Vulcan’s tight passenger seat.
“Mate, you can do whatever you want, so long as you keep your clothes on,” comes the reply.
Few things in life are more stupid and pointless than whipping out a phone to record video footage during a hot lap in a race car (click here to witness the results). Partly because the result is most likely to be terrible, but mainly because should the phone fly out of one's fat buttery fingertips and land in the driver's foot well, there will almost certainly be trouble.
But Tony couldn't care less, and a few seconds later we're hurtling towards the turn-one bus stop at a wealth of knots.
The most impressive thing about the Vulcan when it's in motion is how assured everything feels. Through the seat you can still interpret every deviation of texture in the pavement, but compared to any other race car I've had the pleasure of being in it's a much more composed and refined thing. Even when the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres underneath are utterly knackered.
In some respects, the Vulcan acts as a yin to Tony's yang — an effortless thoroughbred coated in shine and shimmer, countering his gruff, occasionally blunt can-do-will-do attitude that's served him impeccably well over the years.
Within seconds of sitting down with Tony for an interview, we were laughing. Never have so many swear words and cheap jokes been thrown down so quickly between total strangers.
“I was fortunate enough to be given a very quick walk through of Shed 21, which I reckon is the next 20 years of Aston. And some of what's on the Vulcan is probably what [future] Aston's will look like,” he said, while briefly explaining why he bought the beast.
The general question of why is an obvious one, not just in regards to the Vulcan, but in regards to everything. The brilliant Highlands Motorsport Park facility, the newly purchased and revamped Hampton Downs circuit — why push for any of it? It's easy enough to say ‘because he can’, but is the reality that simple?
There are murmurings, as always, in domestic motorsport circles about Tony Quinn. They started when plans of a massive race circuit in Cromwell surfaced, and have lingered ever since. In recent months they've rekindled, following rumours about Quinn and his team's desire to take up a more serious leading role in the promotion of our premier racing categories.
“People that don't know me have the worst opinion of me. I'm a simple guy that makes some radical decisions, and most of them turn out to be pretty good,” Quinn says, his tone now a touch more serious.
“My mission now is really, in a simple way, to give back and support and help and guide motorsport in New Zealand. People say 'but you live in Australia,' but [...] I lived for nine years in New Zealand. I still love New Zealand, I still feel it's the best country in the world.
“The guys [in New Zealand] have dropped the ball. I'm happy to help them, the trouble is that a lot of the guys in the sport right now think I'm doing it because I'm going to make money out of it. I can't stress enough that I don't need to make money out of New Zealand.
“My problem with New Zealand motorsport right now is that the competitors think that people should come and see them, and they blame the promoter or the track when people aren't coming. They ain't coming, they've seen all that before.
“We need to do what cricket did 30 years ago. We need to take a fresh marketing approach with motorsport, and then we have to make the show worthy of the branding. I'm willing to drive it, but I will not drive it unless I get 100 per cent support, and I don't think I'm going to get 100 per cent support, sadly.
“All I've heard for the past three years in New Zealand is that everybody in motorsport blames everybody else. It's always somebody else's fault, and it's always somebody else's problem to find a solution for.
“Everybody is at fault.”
Regardless of what you know about his Vulcan, and his tracks, there will always be more to the man than meets the eye.
Things in New Zealand are about to get very interesting.