Highlands Motorsport Park’s first venture into New Zealand’s traditional summer motor racing season is proving popular with local fans with official estimates of Saturday’s crowd being close to or greater than the 10,000 spectators who attended Saturday of the Highlands 101 event in November.
The two-day event, running 25 and 26 January, features New Zealand’s premier single-seater championship, the Toyota Racing Series (TRS), the popular BNT V8 SuperTourers (V8ST) and UDC New Zealand V8 Utes, and a huge field of Autosure Central Muscle Cars.
Highlands’ general manager Mike Sentch says this is proving another history-making weekend for the Cromwell, Central Otago entertainment facility which opened at Easter 2013.
“It’s been exciting to see the lap times come down every time the Toyotas went out on track and now we can officially say there’s a new lap record on the 4.1 km circuit. This honour went to Singaporean racer Andrew Tang who set a time of one minute, 30.517 seconds while the first race win went to Estonian Martin Rump,” Sentch says.
“We can celebrate Greg Murphy being the first-ever V8 SuperTourer race winner, Kris Walton the first-ever NZ V8 Ute winner and Dean Perkins the first-ever winner of a Central Muscle Cars race.”
Highlands’ owner Tony Quinn took the Benetton Formula 1 car its first high speed run on the Highlands’ circuit. A star feature of the Highlands’ national motorsport museum, the distinctive yellow and green F1 racer once driven by seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher saw dozens of fans running towards it every time its 3.5-litre V8 Ford Cosworth roared into life.
“It was cool to have a star New Zealand sailor racing at Highlands for the first time, with Emirates Team New Zealand’s Grant Dalton among the 34-strong Central Muscle Car field,” Sentch adds. “We also utilised the new lounge in the pit lane building for corporate hospitality for the first time and welcomed spectators on to the Silver Fern Berm for the first time.”
On-track, Estonian driver and current championship leader Martin Rump won the 15-lap TRS race ahead of Singaporean Andrew Tang and American Ryan Tveter.
Rump spoke briefly after his win and said: “I did not expect to lead the series, always this has been about learning so this is great but there is a long way to go.”
Greg Murphy dominated proceedings during the V8 SuperTourers’ first visit to Central Otago, being quickest in both qualifying sessions and winning the first race. Murphy admits he was feeling pressure from young racers, Andre Heimgartner and Anthony Pedersen, who shared the podium positions with him.
Murphy said. “He [Heimgartner] was fast in some places but I could pull away when I needed to.”
Fans were jolted out of their seats when popular V8ST driver Angus Fogg made heavy contact with the concrete wall coming onto the start-finish straight before collecting Mitch Cunningham. Both drivers are okay; Fogg’s out and questions remain regarding Cunningham’s return to racing tomorrow.
Australian Kris Walton reigned supreme in the V8 Utes to take the win ahead of Mike Lightfoot and series newcomer Sam Barry during a mainly trouble-free run for the class.
The Autosure Central Muscle Cars delighted fans with a great display of tight racing in their immaculately presented classic V8s. Dean Perkins (Ford Falcon), a former V8 racing champion, took top honours ahead of Clarke Hopkins (A9X Torana) and Greg Honnor (Ford Mustang).
The action continues on Sunday with a free pitlane walk and driver signing sessions from 9 am and the Central Muscle Cars kick of a day full of racing at 10 am. For more information on this event and all regular Highlands Motorsport Park facilities, please visit www.highlands.co.nz.