North Island motorsport fans get their first opportunity to witness GT racing at its best next month when the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship (AEC) visits the new, improved Hampton Downs circuit.
The Hampton Downs 101 (October 28-30) is the first Australian GT event to be held at the Waikato racetrack. It’s the third of four rounds in the inaugural AEC and will feature a quality field of 2016 spec GT cars including Aston Martins, McLarens, Mercedes, Audi and Porsches, racing door-to-door for 101 laps.
Two weeks later the series moves to the spectacular setting of Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell for the final round of the AEC – the Highlands 101 from November 11-13. The Australian GT Championship will also be decided at Highlands that same race weekend, setting up a spectacular three days of world class racing action.
The FIA GT category is a truly global competition and it’s a major coup for New Zealand motorsport to host back-to-back Australian GT events in this country for the first time. The FIA introduced standardised GT regulations in 2005 and the category has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
The standardised regulations allow vastly different cars to compete on a level playing field and the closeness of the competition has seen the category embraced by team owners, drivers and fans alike, regardless of where in the world they happen to be racing or watching.
According to Hampton Downs and Highlands circuit owner Tony Quinn, the GT category offers lots of opportunities for drivers from New Zealand and Australia to test their skills against drivers from around the world in cars they are familiar with.
“GT cars competing in both the northern and southern hemispheres are essentially identical,” says Quinn. “So, in theory, a northern hemisphere team could put its car into a container, ship it to Australasia and race it down here during the European off-season. Because of that level of standardisation, I could sell my Aston Martin GT car to someone who is looking to get into a GT series anywhere in the world.”
“The other thing is these cars’ components and engines are incredibly reliable; we’re talking about top-level Porsche, Audi or Lamborghini engineering here, so they’re not shot after a season. You might not realise it watching these machines competing flat-out around Highlands or Hampton Downs, but the race engines are good for 20,000km. They’re highly precise engines but they’re restricted. They’re not screaming at the top end of their limits like a V8 engine, so they require less rebuild work.”
Kiwi race fans don’t have much longer to wait to see leading manufacturers such as Audi, Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini and BMW on track.
“We held the first Highlands 101 in 2013 and it was an amazing event,” concludes Quinn. “This year it’s going to be a real spectacle, with a bigger field and bigger crowds. And of course, we can’t wait for people to come and see the GTs at Hampton Downs for the first time. We’re looking forward to showing race fans what we’ve done with the place. It’s a truly world-class facility now and it’s only getting better and better. We’re so proud of what we’ve achieved already and I think people are going to be very impressed.”