With the 23 competitors in the 2014 Toyota Racing Series (TRS) competing at Highlands Motorsport Park for the first time, the circuit’s managers are pleased to hear positive feedback from a number of the young international stars.
Welsh-born Jann Mardenborough, who topped the timesheets today with a lap time of one minute, 30.801 seconds on the 4.1 km Highlands circuit during the early afternoon session, says he’s enjoying his first visit to Highlands.
“In Europe, new circuits typically have a lot of run-off, but here it’s more old school with a bit of grass or gravel then a wall, so that’s quite nice because it’s a challenge to drive. That makes it very satisfying when you complete a good lap, when you’re completely on it; that’s pretty exciting. Of course it makes things more expensive if things go wrong,” says the 22-year-old who’s racing in the Toyota series for the second time and holds second place to Estonian Martin Rump after the two opening rounds.
“Highlands is very wide, one of widest tracks here in New Zealand – you can race around here with plenty of opportunities to pass. The nicest part is the figure of eight with the bridge, I like it, and the facilities are very good, so I can’t see why you couldn’t have a lot of international events here.”
Mardenborough describes Highlands’ setting as amazing. “With mountains all around and a circuit is in the middle, that’s pretty special.”
He also describes the visit to iconic Bendigo Station with fellow TRS competitors, arranged by Highlands, as good fun.
Twenty one-year-old Californian Neil Alberico is also enthusiastic about the Highlands complex.
“It’s fun, a beautiful facility; high quality. The track is nice with a lot of passing opportunities. Coming from the States this is a pretty unique track and by far my favourite so far in New Zealand,” Alberico says.
“There wasn’t a lot of grip yesterday, but as more and more cars get on track, that’s improving. It’s a pretty high speed track and a few tight little sections; real flowing. From a driver’s point of view, it’s a blast to drive.”
Alberico has enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time with the Leitchs (brothers Damon and Brendon are two of four New Zealanders in the field) in Invercargill. “We went fishing at Moeraki which was super fun and caught a bunch of blue cod and cooked it fresh.”
While Alberico hasn’t yet been to Queenstown, he’s definitely planning to visit and would like to return to Highlands.
With Mardenborough quickest of the TRS competitors during Friday’s testing sessions, Singaporean Andrew Tang was second-fastest with a time of one minute, 31.047 seconds and Russian Egor Orudzhev third with his best time of one minute, 31.293 seconds. As more cars spend more time on track tomorrow and more rubber is laid down, series officials expect the lap times to easily go under one minute, 30 seconds.
On track for their first test session at Highlands, the BNT V8 SuperTourer field saw Greg Murphy, now back living in his home region of Hawke’s Bay, set the fastest time of one minute, 39.300. Aucklander Simon Evans was second-fastest (1:39.504) and Hamilton’s Ant Pedersen third (1:39.632).
Among the UDC NZ V8 Ute category, Australian Kris Walton set the best time of one minute, 59.652, with Hawke’s Bay’s Sam Barry second (2:01.566) and Auckland’s Mike Lightfoot third (2:01.708).
The Autosure Central Muscle Cars completed qualifying today with Pukekohe’s Dean Perkins quickest in his Ford Falcon with a time of one minute, 37.373 seconds. Hastings Ford Mustang driver Greg Honnor was second quickest and third was Clarke Hopkins, from Papakura in a Holden Torana A9X.
Saturday’s schedule gets underway with a free pitlane walk and driver signing sessions from 9 am. At 10 am, the BNT V8 SuperTourers get stuck into qualifying, followed by qualifying sessions for the V8 Utes and Toyota single seaters. Entertainment throughout the lunch break is followed by races for all four categories. Racing on Sunday gets underway at 10 am and wraps up at 4 pm. For more information on this event and all regular Highlands Motorsport Park facilities, please visit www.highlands.co.nz.