Motorsport: Dream comes true for Highlands Park

By Eric Thompson

Dream comes true when big turnout proves Highland Park a great racing venture

The start of the opening GT race (top) at Highland Park, near Cromwell. Highland Park owner Tony Quinn (below) on the track. Pictures/John Morris
The start of the opening GT race (top) at Highland Park, near Cromwell. Highland Park owner Tony Quinn (below) on the track. Pictures/John Morris

The famous quote from the film Field of Dreams is apt for Tony Quinn's inaugural race meeting at his Highland Park motorsport centre near Cromwell this weekend.

While the quote from the Kevin Costner movie was "If you build it, he will come", for Quinn it would be, "if you built it, the crowds will come".

Quinn, the New Zealand-based former pet-food magnate, held his first international motorsport meeting at the new venue and the fans turned up in droves.

It was a busy weekend of motorsport events at the track, including the last round of the Australian GT championship and the Highland 101, which covered 101 laps of the circuit for the fastest 42 cars on track regardless of class.

Quinn took advantage of competing on a track he built by doing most of the winning in the categories he contested. Quinn and co-driver Fabian Coulthard had to settle for second, however, in the opening GT race of the weekend behind Rod Salmon and Liam Talbot with Greg Murphy and Neil Crompton rounding out the top three.

Championship contender Klark Quinn and Craig Baird made the most of their pole position but came unstuck by a number of safety car incursions and had to settle for fourth.

V8 Supercars driver Coulthard roared off the start line in race two, making short work of race winner Salmon and soon stretched his lead out to 30 seconds over the chasing pack before he handed over to Quinn.

Meanwhile, Baird had taken over the steering wheel from Klark Quinn and set about chasing down Quinn senior. He ate away at the lead car's buffer but ran out of laps and had to be content with second place, six seconds behind Quinn senior.

The second place, however, was enough for Klark to clinch his first Australian GT title with Tony Quinn in second and Dean Koutsoumidis third.

"That was brilliant," said Tony Quinn. "Fabian drove a fantastic opening stint to give me a buffer over Bairdo. I could see him coming but had plenty in reserve."

Baird said: "I threw everything I had at it. Klark drove a brilliant first stint, but Fabian was just too quick. The traffic wasn't too bad, we just couldn't catch them in the end."

The first two races of the new Toyota GT86 series threw up two different winners. Former NZV8 champion Angus Fogg took a comfortable win in the new one-make series from Tom Alexander.

Fogg then drew the marble to decide the number of cars in the reverse grid for race two - it was No8 leaving him to start down the back of the grid. Jamie McNee took the second race win from Matt Gibson.

"These young chargers are not holding back," said Fogg.

"The cars are so evenly matched that if you make even the smallest mistake you are instantly on the defensive.

"Miss a gear and two cars will be past you. It's great racing."


Another favourite Kiwi racer, Shane Van Gisbergen, was co-driving with Dwayne Carter and won the final three-hour race of the South Island Endurance Series.

Andrew Bagnall and Ant Pederson took second with Simon Ellingham and John McIntyre completing the podium.

In the main event on Sunday, the Highlands 101, Quinn senior was again dominant, winning the three-hour race from Salmon, Talbot and Jason Bright with Peter Edwards and John Bowe in third.

Next best of the New Zealanders was Murphy driving with Australian motorsport commentator Crompton in the Highlands McLaren MP4-12C in fifth. The first all-Kiwi pairing were youngsters Andrew Waite and Simon Evans, who took sixth.

"It's always satisfying to win any race, but it's obviously mixed for me because some people might think it's stacked in my favour in some way," said Quinn.

"You know, I chose to drive with the Kiwi guys like Fabian - they're very genuine and always try their best."

In a Le Mans-style start to the race, the co-drivers, in their race suit but not helmet, were lined up 250 metres away from their car before sprinting along pit lane to their vehicle. Once they'd removed a ribbon from the back of their car and held it clear for the team manager to see, the driver was waved away.

Once the race was under way the lead changed several times - from Evans and Waite early on to Klark Quinn and Baird before Andrew Taplin and Dean Canto had two long stints at the front. Murphy and Crompton took a turn before Tony Quinn and Coulthard came to the fore and held the lead to the end.

Each team had to make two compulsory pit stops and at least one driver change; all had to refuel and most changed tyres. Just 21 cars finished with the best of the South Island Endurance racers Rick Armstrong and Matthew Hamilton.

Unusually among the non-finishers, Baird had just set the fastest lap of the race before a racing incident with a slower car, under the bridge, took him out.

Van Gisbergen was meant to be in the Highland 101 line-up with Carter, the pair having won Saturday's final South Island Endurance 3-Hour Race. However, a cracked diff housing in their Carters Tyres-backed V8 Falcon relegated the pair to the spectator seating.

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- NZ Herald

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