The second round of the New Zealand BNT V8 championship will have a bit of star quality this weekend when Supercars driver Andre Heimgartner lines up on the grid at Pukekohe.
The Aussie-based Kiwi was a last-minute call-up to the Hamilton Motorsport team and had to make it a fast turnaround, having just finished his best season in the Australian Supercars series where he was 16th on the points table.
"Yeah, I was pretty happy the way the season ended," said Heimgartner. "We still managed to get good results in a car that was pretty old.
"The team has been great this year and we made steady progress with the car all year. We got more consistent during the season and that helped with championship points."
Heimgartner heads into the weekend in a good place having re-signed with Kelly Racing for the next Supercars season. He's had a standout year in a car most observers would regard as the oldest, and probably not the fastest. He has been consistently on the pace and headed his three Kelly Racing teammates — Rick Kelly, Simona De Silvestro and Gary Jacobs — at the season's end.
A reward was a new contract, and even better, he'll be racing a new Ford Mustang in 2020.
"I'm pretty pumped at the moment and can't wait until the next season gets under way in a Mustang. It's cool watching them build it and we'll be pretty competitive next year, I'm sure.
"Re-signing wasn't as hard as last year and was pretty straight-forward really. My results this year helped with that sort of stuff and they [Kelly Racing] wanted to keep me," he said.
After a year's racing in what is generally regarded as one of the toughest touring car series in the world, you'd think Heimgartner would be looking for a bit of down time. This time last week, he was belting up to take on the streets of Newcastle at the last round of the Supercars championship.
Heimgartner would race every weekend if he could. So jumping across the Tasman to take on the best of the Kiwi championship drivers was a no-brainer for the Kiwi.
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"Yeah, it's pretty full-on at the moment. But I do get a break over the Christmas-New Year period. This drive only really got sorted this weekend and they are one of my long-time supporters [Hamilton Asphalts], so I wanted to do it.
"I've always enjoyed racing with them, so I thought 'why not?' Not really any logic behind it. I'm actually supposed to be in Queenstown for my mate's birthday this weekend.
"I've always had the theory, though, if you turn down racing for something that's not racing, then why the hell are you doing it [racing]? If you turn down racing, you're obviously not passionate enough about it," said Heimgartner.
To the uninitiated, a Supercar and a New Zealand Touring car may look and sound the same, but to a driver, there are some significant differences.
"The cars are different to a Supercar. They're a bit down on power and built very differently and are more basic than a Supercar. They are quite different to drive as well. I've driven a few of them over time [he is a former BNT V8 champion] and it's always good and close racing.
"It'll be interesting to see how the weekend goes," he said.
Heimgartner had a rocky start to his Supercars career with the now defunct Super Black Racing, then moved to Lucas Dumbell Motorsport, followed by a wilderness year and is now about to embark on his third season with Kelly Racing.