Highlands Motorsport Park - New Zealand's Version of Bathurst
The Highlands Motorsport Park is a racing circuit located in Cromwell, Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island. The 4.1-km long circuit was opened in 2013 and since then it hosted some notable New Zealand’s racing competitions, such as Toyota Racing Series or V8 SuperTourer Championship, but the main event is the annual GT endurance race Highlands 101, which is a part of the Australian GT Championship.
Racing circuit as a premiere tourist facility
Besides being opened for professionals, Highlands Motorsport Park is a premiere tourist facility with plenty different programs for amateur racers (Highlands Action Experience, go kart, off-road buggies) and other non-racing activities (Jurassic safari, sculpture park). The circuit is also the home of the New Zealand’s National Motorsport Museum, displaying a wide range of machinery, including ex-F1 cars.
The idea of a race track near Cromwell, next to an existing speedway oval track, was born in 2006 when supporters trust bought 92ha of land from the district council. A project went further in February 2012, when the trust company was bought by UK-born Australian businessman Tony Quinn, the owner of VIP pet food brand and racing driver since 2000. His sons Klark and Kent are also racing drivers.
Tony Quinn ordered an unusual 22-turn circuit
Quinn family owns an impressive collection of race cars so Tony Quinn was looking for a place to house all those cars. He wanted to develop a challenging and unusual race track with bank corners, fast sweepers, and one crossover bridge. By Easter of 2012, the construction began and the track was completed by January 2013.
Highlands Motorsport Park circuit layout features 4.1-km long main course with 22 turns but the main feature is a possibility to run in six different configurations, three of which could be run simultaneously. Those circuits are simply named A course (1,133m), B course (1,090m), C course (1,496m), D course and E course.
Highlands Motorsport Park was opened in 2013
The opening ceremony was held in April 2013, attended by around 8000 visitors. New Zealand’ racing legend Jim Richards cut the ceremonial ribbon and then made the first lap with Quinn’s McLaren MP4-12C GT3 car.
Three major racing festivals are held each year and Highlands 101 endurance race is the highlight of the year. The 101-lap race (or three-and-a-half hours) was opened for GT and touring cars, featuring a special variation of traditional Le Mans-style start. Since 2014, only GT cars participated.
Two wins for Tony Quinn on his own track
The first winners of Highlands 101 were the track owner Tony Quinn and V8 Supercar racer Fabian Coulthard. They competed with VIP Holdings’ Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Next year, Tony Quinn repeated a victory with the same car, having Garth Tander as a co-driver. In 2015, Klark Quinn and Shane van Gisbergen were the winners, driving a McLaren 650S GT3.
In 2016-edition of the race, Craig Baird and Michael Almond took the win with Scott Taylor Motorsport’s Mercedes-AMG GT3. That race, held on November 13, was the last round of the 2016 Australian GT Championship.
Singaporean racer set the lap time record
When it comes to other competitions that visited Highlands, Toyota Racing Series and V8 SuperTourer Series are the most notable ones. Toyota Racing Series came to Highlands only once, in 2014. The outright lap time record was set in that event, with Singaporean racer Andrew Tang rounded a lap for 1 minute 30.517 seconds. Race winners were Martin Rump, Egor Orudzhev and Jann Mardenborough but the round winner with most points was Andrew Tang.
Racing experience with $4.2-million car
Besides racing, Highlands Motorsports Park offers plenty of other activities, including testing, manufacturer days and experience days. Visitors can experience hot laps in a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or McLaren 650S, and self-drive experiences in a Ford Mustang race car or a Radical SR3.
In early 2016, Highlands acquired one of only 24 Aston Martin Vulcans, priced 4.2 million dollars. A car was unveiled during Highlands’ third birthday celebration and was offered for limited passenger rides. A money generated from that event was donated to five separate charities.
National Motorsport Museum is a must-see place
The Aston Martin Vulcan is currently on display at the National Motorsport Museum, located next to the race track. The museum is telling a story of New Zealand’s racing history and is talking about a collection of iconic Kiwi and Australian cars, trucks and bikes.
Visitors can also relax in the restaurant or winery, take a walk in the sculpture park or enjoy a round of crazy golf on the Mount Panorama-shaped course.
Address: Highlands Motorsport Park, Corner SH6 &Sandflat Road, Cromwell, Otago, New Zealand
Phone: +64 3 445 4052
Official website: www.highlands.co.nz