Kiwi driver Dominic Storey and Peter Hackett have clinched the Australian Endurance Championship in an action-packed Highlands 501. Max Twigg and Tony D’Alberto claimed an unlikely win in Sunday’s feature race with Highlands owner Tony Quinn and Andrew Waite, the resident professional at the Cromwell circuit in second. Much of the drama however, revolved around the championship battle between Hackett and Storey and Tim Miles and Jaxon Evans, who’ve led the title race all season.

It was a heartbreaking race for Miles and Evans, the young Australian-based Kiwi who’s tipped for big things. They only needed to finish fourth to wrap up the championship but with Evans lying second behind Storey, he made the mistake of pushing too hard for the win and lost control on turn two, ripping the tyre from the right rear wheel.

“I was feeling comfortable in the car and I don’t think I was pushing too hard,” says Evans. “I carried a little bit too much speed through the Bus Stop chicane and caught the kerb on the way out. I couldn't hang onto the car and put it into the wall and ended our race. I can’t begin to explain how sorry I am for Tim and the team. We’ve worked so hard all year and unfortunately we didn't come away with the result we wanted today.”

Evans’ mistake appeared to gift the title to Storey and Hackett but there was more drama to come. With five laps to go, Hackett and Storey appeared to be cruising to the race win and the championship, but a problem with the suspension saw Storey crawl into pit lane for some frantic repairs.

“At that point, I thought I was going to have an easy run home to the race win and the championship,” says Storey. “The car was feeling good until about eight laps from the finish. I initially thought it was a problem with the tyres but then I had issues with the steering.”

“I was in the garage looking at lap times and we realised Dom had a problem,” says Hackett. “There was a bit of panic in the garage but once he got the car back to pit lane, our team got to work and fixed the problem and got Dom back out there.”

“Before Jaxon crashed out I thought we were going to win the race but lose the championship and then after Dom came into the pits I realised we were going to lose the race but thankfully he hung on to win the championship. I’m really proud. This win has been a long time coming. I’ve had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory many times before. I’ve finished second in the Australian GT Championship six times, so to finally win it is very special.”

It was a dramatic end to a race that began with a Le Mans start that is unique to Highlands. The professional drivers lined up on the pit wall and sprinted for 200m to their cars where their co-drivers were waiting. Shane van Gisbergen proved as quick on two feet as he is on four wheels, storming through the field from 5th to 1st to give ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett the opportunity to beat Hackett to the exit from pit lane.

“Shane obviously ran a little faster than Dom and I had to give way to Mike on the pitlane exit,” said Hackett. “Mike drove really well and it was tough to get past him. I was just sizing him up for the first few laps and then a safety car allowed us to come in for a splash and dash and that gave us clear air.”

Whiddett, driving one of Highlands owner, Tony Quinn’s two McLarens, stayed in touch with Hackett but his race was ended in cruel fashion on lap 25 when Matt Halliday misjudged his speed into the second last corner and spun Whiddett into the gravel trap.

“I was feeling really good, I set my best lap time of the weekend and I really found my flow,” says Whiddett. “Then, unfortunately, a car that was two laps down took us out. It’s so disappointing for the whole team and for it to happen so early in the race was gutting, especially with a driver like Shane van Gisbergen waiting in the pits to drive after my stint.”

There was some consolation for Quinn, who teamed up with Andrew Waite to finish second.

“A Quinn has finished on the podium every single year at Highlands so to maintain that tradition for Tony is just awesome,” says Waite. “To do it in front of all the local supporters and so many members is extra special. Highlands has had so much support from so many people over the years and to reward them with a podium on the final visit of the Australian GTs to this place, is pretty cool.”

11 November 2017

Storey pips Parente in Highlands Top Ten Shootout

Dom Storey and Peter Hackett continue to impress in the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship with Storey taking out this afternoon’s Top Ten Shootout ahead of tomorrow’s Highlands 501. The Australian-based Kiwi has been the standout driver at the Cromwell circuit all weekend and he handled the pressure of going last in the shootout with ease.

“I’ve worked really hard on my mental game over the last year,” says Storey. “That’s where I’ve let myself down before in my career. We’ve got a really tight team here. Peter believes in me and I’m a lot more confident in myself and the car. Every session we make minor changes to the Mercedes and it seems to be working at the moment.”

Shane van Gisbergen and ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett qualified their McLaren in 7th for the Top Ten Shootout and van Gisbergen took an early lead in the shootout with a 1:31.714. He didn’t hold the lead for long however, as Alvaro Parente, the McLaren factory driver from Portugal, went a second quicker than van Gisbergen with a blistering lap of 1:30.745. It’s Parente’s first visit to the Cromwell circuit, making his shootout lap even more impressive.

John Martin, Jaxon Evans, Tony D’Alberto and Steve Richards all tried and failed to break the 1:31 barrier before Storey, who’s been the quickest in practice all weekend had one last crack at Parente’s time.

Storey didn’t disappoint, beating the Portuguese driver by less than four-hundredths of a second, with a 1:30.708. Storey and Hackett are currently lying second in the Australian Endurance Championship behind Tim Miles and Jaxon Evans and need to win tomorrow's 501 and hope that the championship leaders finish outside the top four if they want to snatch the title in the final race of the season. The Miles/Evans combination will start from sixth in tomorrow's Highlands 501.

Tomorrow’s feature race will start at 12.40pm with the traditional Le Mans start. One of the drivers from each team will be nominated to participate in a sprint down pit lane to their car where the other driver will be waiting to start the race. Peter Hackett will start in the driver’s seat for today’s shootout winners, meaning Storey will have to stretch his legs to hang onto pole position.

“I used to run a lot and I think I finished second or third in last year’s Le Mans start,” says Storey. “I bought some new runners last week so I’m ready and hopefully I won’t let the team down!”

In the support categories at Highlands this afternoon, Sam Wallace was the first winner of the weekend, taking out the second round of the Toyo Tyres Mazda Pro7 Championship at Highlands, with Hunter Roland in second and Daniel Taylor in third. Jarrod Owens won the Euromarque category with Danny Whiting and Andy Knight in second and Highlands member Grant Aitken in third.

10 November 2017

Kiwi drivers impress in Highlands 501 practice

Kiwi drivers, Shane van Gisbergen, Dominic Storey and Jaxon Evans all showed good speed during today’s practice sessions for the Highlands 501.

Sunday’s feature race at the Cromwell circuit doubles as the final round of the Australian Endurance Championship. Australian-based Kiwis, Jaxon Evans and Tim Miles have led the championship all season and Evans was the quickest in today’s first practice session in the Audi R8 LMS with a time of 1:32.605.

Dominic Storey and Peter Hackett are within striking distance of the championship leaders and Storey, who led the field home at the Hampton Downs 500 two weeks, continued his good form with the fastest lap in the afternoon practice session in the Mercedes-Benz. Storey was over a second quicker than Evans with a 1:31.424.

Shane van Gisbergen was just three-tenths of a second off the pace set by Storey.

“It’s great to have Shane here this weekend because he’s such a good reference point for the rest of us,” says Storey. “He’s so good at everything he does and it could be a good thing for us because we need cars to finish between us and Jaxon and Tim. For us to win the title we need to come out on top this weekend and hope that as many other cars as possible are competitive.”

The driver pairing of van Gisbergen and ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett will be one to watch over the weekend.

“I’m just listening and learning from Shane and trying to soak it all up,” says Whiddett. “The only problem is that Shane is so fast, my lap times are a lot slower than his. I was nearly three seconds a lap slower but I’ve got to remind myself it’s an endurance race and it's a long weekend. I’m still learning how hard to push the car in practice, qualifying and the race to make sure it lasts the weekend.”

Highlands resident professional, Andrew Waite has done more laps around Highlands than anyone and he was fifth fastest in Tony Quinn’s McLaren.

“I’ve done a heap of laps around here but it’s not as much of an advantage as I expected,” says Waite. “When I’m doing hot laps with customers, I’m looking after the car and the people in it. It’s very different to driving at this level. You’re talking maybe 25 seconds a lap slower so to try and flick that switch is a challenge. The level of commitment you need around here is huge. If you make one mistake it’s going to end badly.”

It’s the last time the Australian GT series will race in Central Otago and for Highlands owner, Tony Quinn it feels like the end of an era.

“We’ve had a great few years with the GTs and I’ve got some awesome memories,” says Quinn. “We’re close to confirming some big news for next year’s marquee event at Highlands. It will be different but it will be good and there will be more of a focus on New Zealand motorsport. We’ve got almost 40 local cars entered in the 1-Hour race at Highlands this weekend. They get the chance to race in front of family and friends and that’s pretty special.”

In the support categories at Highlands today, Hamish Collins won the first race of the meeting, in the Mazda Pro7 Series while Jarrod Owens won the first race in the Euromarque category.

The action gets underway at 9 am tomorrow morning at Highlands with qualifying for the Highlands 501 at 12.55 and 2.20pm followed by the Top Ten Shootout at 3.50pm. Tickets are available at the gate or at www.highlands.co.nz

Highlands Motorsport Park [media@highlands.co.nz]