Lasers, dinosaurs, & meetings of chance: inside New Zealand's newest race track
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"I fear that at any point now, someone’s gonna say ‘Jesus, do you actually know what you’re doing?’ from up above me."
One day, scholars with nothing better to do will write stories about the correlation (or causation) of race drivers who hang up the gloves in their droves, and become astute businessmen. Although, speaking to Daniel Gaunt, he's not sure exactly where he falls into the nexus.
"Tony [Quinn] always says that race drivers make good businessmen. But, I’m not going to be pretend I’m a businessman," he laughs.
Gaunt recently opened Game Over Auckland; a big red colossus of a building that overlooks the Northern Motorway. Inside is one of the country's largest go-karting facilities, with an attached mini-golf course and laser tag arena. It's one of two Game Over kart tracks in New Zealand.
His should be a familiar name to Kiwi motorsport fans. For a time, he was a regular in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, racing in the Dunlop Development Series before scoring a series of co-driver gigs and a short-lived seat with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport.
Before that, he was a sharp shooter in the heyday of New Zealand's Porsche Carrera Cup Series — battling and beating the likes of Craig Baird, Matt Halliday, Jonny Reid, and podcast and shoey megastar David Reynolds.
These days, he's a frequent fixture in the CAMS Australian GT Championship. And it was at one of these events last year that a plan was formed with co-driver and circuit owner Tony Quinn.
"Last June at the Phillip Island 500 GT race, he made a passing comment. ‘Hey I’ve bought that equipment from Formula E out by the airport. Find a building and we’ll start a business’," Gaunt explained.
"I went ‘OK, I want skin in the game’, and from there I started looking. From the beginning of August we had this building in mind. [Tony] flew out, and said ‘you’ve found a gem. Let’s get it’. When you’ve got a businessman like Tony who backs the product and backs ideas, he doesn’t hold back.
"I’ve known Tony roughly 10 years just through motor racing in Australia. He’s been in the scene a long time — longer than me obviously. He’s always been a jovial character, and we’ve always been on the same wavelength humour-wise."
While Quinn is seen as something of a business maestro, for the green Gaunt most of it is new.
"It’s all new to me. Dealing with staff, the pressures of paying rent. Even though Tony’s enabled it, I’m a shareholder and it has to work. If it doesn’t work, then it dilutes what I’ve put in. He’s not going to just prop it up — he hasn’t made a fortune out of everything that he’s touched by losing money."
The road to opening day late last year was a long one, underlined by a complex sub-leasing deal on the property (ironically owned by the New Zealand Transport Agency), as well as hidden challenges like wiring the whole premises and setting up an account system. " I didn’t realise how many little things there were that you don’t think of," Gaunt added.
In a lot of ways though, it's been worth it. Having had a steer on the track myself, I'm happy to report that it's one of the best in the country.
With seven corners packed into quite a small space, you feel quite busy behind the wheel. But by the same token, it doesn't have the 'one race line only' vibe that many other small tracks have.
Perhaps it's because the circuit still has to rubber in some more, but it feels like most corners have multiple viable racing lines. This is especially true for turn one; a tightening left-hand hairpin. Brake early and take the corner with civility, or brake late and back the kart in on its rear wheels.
"For the track we just played to the strengths of the electric karts. The acceleration of an electric kart compared to a petrol kart is extraordinary, they have instant torque from the word go. So we’ve got lots of hairpins."
Furnishing the track, mini-golf course, and deceptively large laser tag arena are an array of dinosaurs. Each was containered from Quinn's Highlands Motorsport Park circuit in Cromwell, which naturally required a lot of problem solving.
"I don’t know how many times you’ve ever tried to tie a dinosaur down, but they’re quite bitey."
What places Gaunt in an even more interesting business position is that, thanks to a late-2018 ruling by Immigration New Zealand, Quinn can only come to New Zealand for a handful of days a year. The crime? Overstaying his permitted day limit in New Zealand across 2015–’16 by one day.
"He’s only got 41 days here in a year, and he’s obviously got businesses in the North and South Island. He’s burnt half of his 41 days this year already with different stuff in the South Island.
"It’s tough. He rings me every now and then and says ‘I’m not neglecting you, I’m just not allowed there.’"
Funnily enough, Gaunt and Quinn's next encounter will be at next month's Phillip Island 500 — 12 months on from when they first hatched this crazed idea. Only this time around, they'll be co-drivers in the latter's Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
"Co-drivers, business partners … it’s actually worked out alright."