In January 2010, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park was officially opened by the Waikato District Mayor, Peter Harris, at the Bruce McLaren Festival.
In May of that year, the new Hampton Downs complex was the venue for two Special Stages on Day 2 of the 2010 Rally New Zealand, part of the World Rally Championship.
To keep the massive crowd that came to the North Waikato circuit entertained, a huge day of motorsport was arranged featuring static exhibitions, displays plus a number of races to support the two appearances of the rally cars.
While the action-packed GTRNZ Championship has concluded for the season, several of the ultra-fast crowd pleasing fire-breathing cars from the class were back on track at Hampton Downs recently as part of a terrific promotion for motorsport.
Twenty-four GTRNZ competitors were amongst seventy-three saloon cars that took advantage of the opportunity to race in front of a crowd estimated to be 20,000 strong, many of them not regular motorsport spectators.
Among the GTRNZ competitors in the saloon car races were several of the classes top contenders such as GT1 Champion Grant Brennan of Tauranga in his Brennan SB2 Corvette, New Plymouth driver John Rae in his Chev Corvette C5 and GT2 Class runner-up Craig Corliss of Auckland in his AU Falcon V8 Supercar.
After qualifying the cars were split into two groups based on their times for racing. The quality of racing was top notch and the massive crowd lapped it up. The drivers too, enjoyed the new Hampton Downs layout. “I’ve never driven a circuit so good. It’s got a bit of everything,” said Brennan after his superb drive through the field in the finale.
The first race from a standing grid start provided a spectacular race. John Rae had qualified second fastest but failed to make the grid while Brennan did not have a good start and was passed by Corliss and Malcolm Udy in his impressive Dodge Viper into the first corner. Tauranga driver Tim Rooney made contact with Chris Coleman, losing the bonnet of his Ford Mustang in the process, forcing him to retire from the race. Kester Olivercrona in his Mazda had a waste-gate come loose which created plenty of excitement when he came into the pitlane where the car burst into flames. Amidst all the action Brennan had surged back into the lead to cross the line ahead of Udy with Corliss third.
The second race featured a handicap format and Brennan started 17 seconds behind the last group of cars to leave ahead of him. The deficit looked insurmountable but the Tauranga driver set about catching the field and then carving his way through to the lead. Again there was action aplenty, a spectacular crash between Stephen Rasmussen, Tony Roberts and Chris Coleman with a further incident between Rae and Kevin Cantwell taking several cars out of the race. However those left on the track provided a great race with Brennan picking his way through the traffic and the carnage to take his second victory of the day. On this occasion Corliss was second and Udy third after a great battle.
The sound of the spectacular field drew the spectators and many of the overseas rally team personnel to the edge of the circuit to watch the cars down the long front straight. The sound of the highly tuned SB2 Corvette of Brennan in particular was unbelievable, the likes of which the visiting rally crews had never heard before.
The racing was brilliant and a real eye-opener for many of the new spectators at the event. Brennan also set a new lap record during the day and reported incredible interest from the crowds inspecting the cars in the pits between the on-track action.
Main photo: Disaster strikes. Stephen Rasmussen, Chris Coleman and Tony Roberts slide off the track after contact when Coleman spun entering the front straight in the handicap race at Hampton Downs