Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell today announced New Zealand's iconic Race to the Sky hill climb will return next year under new management after an eight year hiatus.
Held in the Cardrona Valley near Wanaka, the high-profile event known as the Highlands Race to the Sky, will be held 17 - 19 April 2015 boasting a new claim to fame as the longest gravel hill climb in the world.
Under the stewardship of Grant Aitken, Race to the Sky was last held in 2007 when world-renowned veteran driver "Monster" Tajima (64) claimed his eighth victory out of nine starts.
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"Monster", who hails from Japan, was at Highlands today for the launch and announced he will return to defend his title alongside past competitors and motorsport enthusiasts from around the globe.
Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn said they'd already had interest from a number of past competitors keen to come back and he was "extremely excited" to confirm Monster's return.
"All eyes will be on Cardona Valley once again as over 100 cars, bikes and buggies compete for the title of 'King of the Hill' on what is now the world's longest gravel hill climb," said Mr Quinn.
"The Southern Lakes is the adventure capital of the world and competitors and spectators are in for a heart stopping two days of entertainment. The course itself will remain as true to its old form as we can make it."
"Our goal is to ensure the action both on and off the course delivers an experience that encapsulates speed, skill, courage, determination, excitement, competition and sheer exhilaration," he said
Highlands Motorsport Park
"The team at Highlands are focused on elevating the experience for all parties involved to make it worthy of an international standing."
"Having Monster back is certainly a draw card but we also want to attract more of the world's best and some of the new up and coming talent too."
Visiting New Zealand especially for the announcement and to re-familiarise himself with the Pisa Range race course, Monster Tajima said, "I'm very pleased that Highlands have decided to bring back Race to the Sky and give me the opportunity to defend my title."
"Of all of the gravel hill climbs this is number one, and now that it is the longest in the world it makes it even more special. The course is fantastic, yes it is very tough but the safety is great and the views are amazing.
"I've held the title of King of the Hill eight times now, so I need two more to make it 10," said Monster.
The Race to the Sky course spans 14.5km, with 135 turns as it climbs from 450 metres to 1500 metres above sea level.
Highlands general manager Mike Sentch said, "In the first year we want to grow the reputation and legacy of the event with the vision of it holding its own on the world stage and capturing the imagination and competitive spirit of some international stars."
Reining champion Monster Tajima (left) with Highlands general manager Mike Sentch
"There is much glory in being the King of the Hill. The fastest individual, on the world's longest gravel hill climb - man and machine against the mountain in the pursuit to be the best," said Mr Sentch.
Mr Quinn promises the Highlands Race to the Sky will not just be for motorsport enthusiasts, the atmosphere will be supercharged with plenty of action for the whole family
"The fact it is the longest gravel hill climb in the world, its location in the adventure capital of the world and that it's being produced by a team with an impressive track record, creates a unique opportunity for the business and motorsport community to leverage off this truly unique world class event," said Mr Quinn.
"Quite simply it will be like no other event held in New Zealand ever."