It’s race week, and for the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli regulars, the maiden event off shore for the Australian-based series can’t come soon enough.
The hype about series owner Tony Quinn’s new venue has been high, so too the expectation, but everyone that has so far seen the new Cromwell venue has commended the effort the Highland’s team has committed to the facility, whilst admitting almost without exception, that the photographs and videos do not do the facility justice.
The anticipation is high, with few certain of what to expect. A new venue, on which very few people have ever driven before - much less competed - awaits the 20 AGT entries, and with just two 40-minute races ahead of them to claim vital championship points, there is still plenty to play for.
To throw another degree of difficulty into the program, the Quinn family have adopted local knowledge for their team of cars. Points leader - and soon to be crowned back-to-back champion - Klark Quinn has employed the services of Craig Baird, the very man who defeated him in round two of the Championship on the streets of Adelaide. Baird is a Porsche specialist, the five-time Carrera Cup champion is the ideal man to drive alongside Quinn Jnr, whilst it was only fitting that New Zealand’s favourite son Greg Murphy would replace Baird in the Highlands McLaren MP4-12C.
Should Murphy win the AGT round, or in fact the season ending ‘Highlands 101’ it would be the stuff of legend.. Imagine, one of New Zealand’s most popular drivers, taking a marque developed by a New Zealand icon who conquered Formula One - that is celebrating it’s 50th year - on a track that is set for its maiden event..
Whilst it would be a perfect foundation from which to begin what already seems destined to be a bright future for the new motorsport venue, Murphy will have his work cut out, and the Holden Racing Team V8 Supercar part-timer will be keen to give his home fans something to scream about - especially after a dismal Bathurst and Gold Coast experience.
Throw in Fabian Coulthard in Tony Quinn’s exciting (and race winning) Aston Martin Vantage, recent V8 Supercar round winner (Gold Coast), Dean Canto in the Ferrari 458, former Bathurst winner John Bowe in an identical car, V8 Supercar ‘Development Series’ points leader Dale Wood in a 2013-spec Lamborghini Gallardo and a bloke with a bit of Formula One experience (he was a factory Ferrari driver at one stage of his career) - Ivan Capelli - and you have the perfect ingedients for excitement!!
Action gets underway with two practice sessions, qualifying and the opening 40-minute race on Friday, whilst Saturday heralds the final race of the championship season with the second 40-minute race scheduled for just after midday.
Then it all starts again on Sunday, with qualifying for the ‘invitational’ Highlands 101, followed by the excitement of a Le Mans style start at 1:25pm, and a gruelling 101-lap race (over three and a half hours) with a full field of 40 cars, including the bulk of the Australian GT Championship regulars alongside the leading South Island Endurance Series drivers.. It will be one of the record books, and not to be missed!
If you’re anywhere near the south island of New Zealand this weekend, you’d be mad not to come and see one of the most exciting fields in NZ motorsport’s history battle against the best New Zealand has to offer on one of the most exciting circuits in the southern hemisphere. What’s not to like!?
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR?
GT Championship (for current specification GT3 cars)
With Craig Baird (alongside Klark Quinn), Fabian Coulthard (with Tony Quinn) and Greg Murphy (in the McLaren alongside Neil Crompton) in outright contention, picking a winner is going to be difficult. The emotional favourite has to be Murphy in the McLaren – two New Zealand icons together for the 50th anniversary of the marque at the opening event for Highlands.. it has a ring of fate about it.
Their race fitness is likely to be the key, whilst further down the order, series regulars John Bowe, Peter Edwards, Dean Koutsoumidis, Rod Salmon and Justin McMillan have their own private war to wage, with the final place on the championship podium up for grabs – that in itself will be an enthralling battle!
GT Trophy (for two generation old GT3-spec cars)
Steve McLaughlan has all but wrapped up the title and with Greg Crick alongside will be tough to beat, but the big Viper has been a little fragile lately, and with Jinadasa’s Lamborghini all but returned to its original form over recent months, the fight for outright victory could be interesting. Don’t rule out a local challenge in the Highlands Mosler MT900 by Clark Proctor and Steve Ross either..!
GT Challenge (Challenge class cars - Porsche/Ferrari)
There’s only 38 points in it, but Ben Foessel desperately wants that title after leading the points all season. Brendan Cook had a lousy run of luck at Phillip Island, but since then, he and former GT3 Cup Challenge champion Matt Kingsley have been the dominant team in the category, but with Porsche specialist (and opening round class winner) Michael Almond slated to join Foessel at Highlands, and Kinglsey withdrawing just days ahead of the round due to injury, it will be ‘game on!’.
GT Sports (GT4 category cars)
The mighty Ginetta G50s have waged their own private war all season, and whilst Michael Hovey took the early points lead, rival Mark Griffith has rebounded strongly, winning the last three rounds to be nine points clear of Hovey heading to NZ. Employing the services of Jack Perkins hasn’t hurt his title aspirations either, although adding the V8 Supercar part-timer to his driver lineup ensures that he carries a big pit stop parity penalty. The race between the two will be well worth watching, and if either fail, Tony Martin is sitting in the wings in a position to pick up the pieces..
For more information on the 2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli, please visit www.australiangt.com.au
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