Youngster looks to test drives as gateway to a new challenge.

Kiwi motorsports fans heading to Australia for the V8 Supercars' Gold Coast 600 are in for a treat. Top international drivers from all sorts of open-wheel and tin-top racing are pairing up with the regulars from the V8 championship.

Some of the co-drivers suiting up include Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, and IndyCar drivers Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, James Hinchliffe, Graham Rahal and Mike Conway.

If that's not enough, fans will get to see Formula One drivers including Mika Salo, Nick Heidfeld, Gianni Morbidelli, Lucas Di Grassi and Max Papis. Others to grace the street circuit are Boris Said, Jeroen Bleekemolen, David Brabham and Stephane Sarrazin.

Off the back of his fourth Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 win, Jamie Whincup has teamed up with four-time World Champ Car victor Bourdais and the number-one pair are the favourites to take out the Gold Coast title they won last year.


"We are looking good heading into the Gold Coast 600, which is always a very difficult and unpredictable track," said Whincup. "The team is on a high after the Bathurst win. Sebastien is in good form, he has had experience on the track, which is a great advantage."

If TeamVodafone take out the number one spot at the Armor All Gold Coast 600, it will mean a clean sweep for the endurance season.

Pukekohe round set for April

Despite various reports to the contrary in the past few weeks, the New Zealand round of the V8 Supercars is in fact the weekend of April 12-14, 2013.

The date was confirmed at a press conference at Pukekohe on Monday where outgoing chairman Tony Cochrane, with CEO David Malone, also released details of the track upgrades.

After the fiasco of the Hamilton venue and subsequent outcry over the budget blowout for the street circuit, V8 Supercars has returned to the spiritual home where the event was held from 2001 until 2007. However, the move back north has not come without certain rumbling about Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) money being put up for it.

The council wanted a probe into how the deal came about, but the Office of the Auditor-General quashed such action.

Up to $6.6 million has been earmarked for raising the circuit standard to a Level Two track.

The main change track-wise will be the introduction of three new corners along the back straight, plus resurfacing and new safety barriers around the whole place. Money has also been put aside to build new pits, a new timing tower and race control.

Lester back to Japan

Jono Lester returns to the Japanese Super Taikyu Endurance Series, at the Suzuka circuit in Nagoya, this weekend to continue his title push.

He's driving the Petronas Syntium Team's Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 number 28 car and will be taking the fight to the team's sister car for the overall championship win.

Lester and his co-drivers were well on the pace last time out in May, setting pole position and opening up a significant buffer on the rest of the field before a broken suspension put them out of contention. With recent V8 SuperTourer and Porsche GT3 Cup seat time under his belt, Lester is confident he can perform once again this weekend.

"It's been a long mid-season break. Too long for my liking," he said. "However, I've kept my eye in with strong results in other championships back in New Zealand, as have my teammates in Malaysia [winning the recent MME 12 Hour race at Sepang].

"We are all as excited as each other to visit Suzuka, and the track will be well gripped up after the Formula One event a fortnight ago."

Rather than the usual long-distance format of the championship, the Suzuka event will stage two 60-minute, two-driver races.

"It will be quite similar in approach to the V8s [SuperTourers] really - pair of short enduros with a short turnaround. It's always nice to mix things up, and to rag the SLS for all it's worth is a prospect that really excites me."