Highlands confirmed to host second South Island event for NaZCAR Lemons crews

It’s one of the most coveted venue/date combinations on the local long distance/endurance racing landscape. And later this year, for the first time in 10 years, the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell and popular New Zealand grass-roots motorsport series organiser NaZCAR are teaming up to deliver a first-of-its-kind Lemons endurance racing event (and second foray to the South Island in 2024 for the Auckland-based series) on Saturday, November 02. 

Traditionally the early/mid-Spring date at  the Tony Quinn-owned, Josie Spillane-managed Highlands Motorsport Park circuit on the outskirts of Cromwell, has been reserved for the titans of our local sport; initially via a tie-up with the Australian GT championship (which produced the popular Highlands 101 events) and more recently through the locally nurtured SIERDC (for South Island Endurance Racing Drivers’ Club) series.

This year however, the SIERDC decided against having its final 2024 series round at the Highlands circuit, forcing Spillane to look elsewhere for a promotable alternative endurance category.

Which, in a nutshell, is why, come the final week in October the man behind the NaZCAR/24 Hours of Lemons organisations, Dr Jacob Simonsen, will be making his way from his home in Auckland to the Highlands Motorsport Park at Cromwell in Central Otago to coordinate his and his NaZCAR/24 Hours of Lemons organisations’ first ever event at the country’s pre-eminent motorsport facility, and only the second NaZCAR endurance event for Lemons cars and their teams of amateur drivers to be run in the South Island.

Dr Simonsen, meanwhile, got his start in motorsport event management in this country when he promoted New Zealand’s first 24 Hours of LeMons event at the Hampton Downs circuit in the Northern Waikato in 2016

Soon after that event Dr Simonsen set up an independent sanctioning body, the Australasian Auto-Sport Alliance (AA-SA), to provide event organisers like himself with a viable alternative to Motorsport NZ.

Eight years on  Dr Simonsen and his NaZCAR organisation produces a number of industry-leading long-distance grass-roots series’ featuring some of the most extensive grids in the country and breaking virtually every record relating to duration, grid capacity and participation along the way!

The NaZCAR series aims to make racing safe, fun, and affordable for motorsport enthusiasts.

Highlands remains committed to all forms of endurance racing, and SIERDC’s surprising decision not to compete at the venue this year presents the perfect opportunity for a long-format NaZCAR Lemons event.

 “With SIERDC choosing to skip Highlands in 2024, we found ourselves with two spare days within our ‘race day allocation’, so for one of the days, we’ve worked with Dr Jacob Simonsen to bring Lemons to Highlands,” said venue CEO Josie Spillane.

 “Endurance racing and Highlands go hand-in-hand, and we’ve hosted some fantastic events over the past ten years, from the 101’s to our recent Highlands 6-Hour, which was a great success.

November’s one-day event will also feature the Whoop Whoops corner approaching the iconic Highlands bridge.

“NaZCAR Lemons are a welcome addition to our 2024 line-up – It’s safe, entertaining, fun, and we are confident there will be a waiting list to participate in the event!

Over the past eight years, NaZCAR Lemons have regularly raced at Hampton Downs and Taupo International Motorsport Park and have recently expanded their South Island presence.

 A meet at Highlands has been a long time in the making for series founder Dr Jacob Simonsen, who recognises the support he has received from the Tony Quinn-led group has helped NaZCAR Lemons bloom.

 “Highlands is the holy grail of racetracks in this country, so the excitement level from us is beyond ecstatic to be able to come and play there,” he said.

 “We’ve been planning to get there for years. I know there are constraints, so for us to have this opportunity is unbelievably cool

  “The growth has been fantastic, largely thanks to the trust and collaboration Josie and her team have afforded us.

“They’ve always made us feel welcome at their racetracks and with this support, we’ve been able to really express our form of motorsport, which is focussed on fun, while ensuring safety is still a key factor.”

Results play second-fiddle in Lemons’ events, with safe, easy, fun and affordable seat time taking centre stage.

“It’s a bit like Whose Line is It Anyway; the points don’t matter!” adds Dr. Simonsen. “It’s not a race; everyone is relaxed, enjoys themselves, and has a good time. It’s a whole different vibe.”

Even before he flew to Timaru to oversee the running of his first event on the South Island, the ‘Next Level’ 8-Hr for Lemons at Timaru’s Levels circuit on Saturday March 08 this year, Dr Simonsen had been in regular contact with representatives from all the key South Island circuits, seeking suitable dates for the complete range of NaZCAR NZ-sanctioned events, from simple, single-day, up-to-8-hr  novelty endurance events for grass roots low-cost Lemons and Limes cars (like the ‘Next Level’ one at Timaru) through to rounds of the recently launched NaZCAR + ‘MEGA’  Series, and the NaZCAR National Endurance Championship title-earning NaZCAR PRO Series.

The  Levels circuit management were open to trying new things and invited the NaZCAR Lemons ‘circus’ with open arms – with the success of the first ‘Next Level’ meeting at the central South Island circuit meeting prompting both parties to seek a repeat of the exercise to make this a regular feature on the Timaru calendar.

As to the actual ‘race’ itself, line honours were taken – just – by the tricked-up SsangYong  Actyon Ute of the Taupo-based Ghost Dog Racing M111 #000 squad who crossed the finish line after 8 hours to complete 267 laps – having done so with each half of the 8 hour event run in different directions 

In doing so the team’s three drivers were  able to keep the weird-looking but obviously very effective Holden HQ Monaro/A9X mash-up of fellow North Island visitors, Team Counties Spares Racing of Pukekohe,  behind them, though the gap at the finish line was only 1.223 seconds.

In third place at the line, but a full lap down on the front-running North Island squads, meanwhile, was the Mazda RX8 of the first of the South Island-based outfits, Team Mazda Pro8 Converts, who afterwards were awarded the event’s  ultimate prize, The Spirit of Lemons trophy, for their efforts.

The trio of drivers, meanwhile, who made up the South Island’s second squad home, Team TEC, greeted the chequered flag in fourth place at the finish line, a further two laps back, but  were to be fairly quickly elevated to ‘round top spot’ status and earn one of the event’s most important prizes; (aka ‘The Little Golden Cup’) for the most laps accumulated (either completed, or earned by way of bribe or other such inducement to the event’s Judges of Fact).

Dr Simonsen is happy to admit that the idea of having up to three Judges of Fact wandering up and down pitlane all day (if it’s a day race) and half the night (if it’s longer), poking their noses in where they’re not wanted AND dishing out actual penalties as they see fit, would never work in a conventional club (or worst still, a committee-run motorsport event.)

Thank goodness then, that his NaZCAR-organised and run, and Australasian Auto-Sport Association (AASA)-sanctioned events are anything but ordinary then.

Explaining the reasoing behind the introduction of a Judging Panel ahead of the first NaZCAR long distance endurance event of the 2024 season, the Badthurst 12-hour at Taupo in February, Dr Simonsen said; “We don’t characterise our ‘Lemons’ and ‘Limes’ events as races as such.

“We prefer to see them as motorsport ‘events’ where the accent is more on fun, than the traditional ‘win at all costs’ mentality which has held sway in motorsport circles for so long.

“It’s all about the ‘Spirit’ of the event.

“Ideally, competitors’ cars should be as crappy and unique as possible, and they mustn’t be able to lap whichever circuit we are running an event at quicker than an ‘ideal lap time’ that we set per class before each event.

“Obviously, each car must be equipped with a comprehensive roll cage, and full safety gear and each driver must wear an approved fire-proof race suit, helmet and special head-restraining FHR device.

Never let it be said either, that Dr  Simonsen is no longer prepared to do the required amount of ‘due diligence’ on every event he organizes and runs.

It was only while talking over the storied Timaru  circuit and its various idiosyncrasies with a knowledgable local in the lead-up to last  month’s ‘Next Level’ event, for example,  that Dr Simonsen was made aware of the fact that the Levels circuit is one of the only permanent motor racing circuits in this country, able – and perhaps more importantly – fully licensed and ready, to host events in both directions, clock and counter-clockwise.

Realising a unique sales and marketing opportunity for his newest, and first South Island event, Dr Simonsen immediarely went back to the club seeking the required permission to run the ‘Next Level’ meeting in one direction in the morning then after a short ‘lunch’ break resume racing in the other direction in the afternoon.

Come race-day, the 26-strong field of cars whose teams had made the cut, gathered on a makeshift dummy grid along the pit lane adjacent to the Levels circuit’s short start straight for photos and car/drivers introductions before local identity Manny Sim, driving the beautifully restored Sim’s Bakery, Tinwald (Ashburton) twin sliding side door Bedford delivery van, led the field north and out onto the track for the first 4-Hr stint running the circuit in the largely unfamilier clockwise direction.

Sim and his delightful ‘pace van’ were called on to perform a similar role as the remaining 20-something teams still in the competition neared the end of their compulsory lunch time break and contemplated their return to the track for the second four-hour stint, this time with the field now running in the traditional, counter-clockwise direction.’

Despite a reasonably high attrition rate for a one-day event (out the 30 teams that registered to do the event 26 made it to the start, but just 17 of those 26 made it  to the finish line), Dr Simonsen expressed himself well pleased with the way the event panned out.

“Definitely, “ he said. “ For a start, there were lots of different themes and costumes – which was a fantastic effort from the locals who really embraced the Spirit of Lemons; complete with bizarre penalties and lap manipulation by the Judges; with most of the drivers I observed seemingly happy enough to just suck it up and carry on; more often than not with big smiles slapped across their faces.”

Dr Simonsen also confirmed that; “most of the teams also got right into the ‘bribery & corruption’ ethos, with one team even cooking lunch for the Judges; by stuffing pies and sausages under the hood and (literally) burning around the track until said savouries were considered ‘piping hot!’”

“Something else I’m particularly proud of as well, Dr Simonsen said,“ was that despite it being a first such (budget, endurance – type) event for many of our drivers, plus the fact we used the track in both directions during the day, we didn’t have one panel-on-panel incident across the entire day of track activity – a testament to the quality of drivers and driving our events are attracting at the moment, as well as the efficacy of the robust safety protocols we insist that everyone who enters even just the one of our events, buys into.”

Though many of the cars that end up on a Lemons (Value at Time of Purchase $1,000 or less) or now a Lemons & Limes (VTP between $1 &  $2K) grid no longer represent the peak of performance and/or prestige they might once have when they were new, it is still quite amazing how well a typical Lemon or Lime car can go around a circuit, once it has been equipped with a full roll cage, stiff-backed racing seat and 6-point racing harness.

Awards were dished out at the end of the day, with lots of the first-time teams bathng in the glory of getting to take home one of the  coveted event trophies for the first time.

Unfortunately,by the time it was realised that every one of the steampunk-inspired trophies welded together by non other than Dr Simonsen  himself, had been ‘won’ by local, i.e. South Island teams, rumblings of discontent were  just starting to be heard from some of the North lsland squads, prompting Dr Simonsen to come up with a special aid/credit package valued at $1,000 per team to enable the six North Island teams affected to return home and use the credit to help them prepare better for the next major NaZCAR event.

With that little issue sorted out to everyone’s ultimate satisfaction, it was then time for  Dr Simonsen and his dedicated band of helpers to get back on an aeroplane and return to ‘The Office’ in Auckland and launch into their next projects; the 2024  Northland Mega Street Sprint & Rod & Custom Auto Show in early April and the next big

NaZCAR 24 Hours of Lemons event in the North Island, the three-day Hampton Hooptie-fest, which kicks off on Friday May 10.

Eight years on from promoting his first event in the novelty endurance ‘space,’ Dr Simonsen said that he was ‘absolutely chuffed’ when he was approached with what has evolved into the Whangarei Mega Street Sprint event.

“What it  does,” he said this week, “is give us credibility. Plus a certain standing in the eyes of our peers.

“You know, NaZCAR, over the past 2/3 years, has become one of the real ‘mainstays’of the entire industry, with the biggest grids, most accessible events and most inclusive processes.

“With some circuits booked five years in advance, we offer our customers security that they can spend their hard-earned money on cars and apparel without disappointment.

“NaZCAR’s safety record and processes are unparalleled – in fact, NaZCAR leads the way in safety and deployment of technology to minimise incidents and harm to man, woman and machine.”

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