Top drivers fly in to vie for Highlands 101 victory

As competitors in this year’s Highlands 101 endurance race arrive in Central Otago, the question many will be asking is who’s going to take victory in this year’s big race.

Some will look to the proven combination of Highlands’ owner Tony Quinn and V8 Supercar star and three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Garth Tander, the pair having secured an unexpected last lap victory in the 2014 edition of the 101-lap race in an Aston Martin DBRS9 GT3. Quinn and Tander also won the Phillip Island 101 in 2014, and Quinn driving with star Kiwi V8 Supercar driver Fabian Coulthard, took victory in the inaugural Highlands 101 in November 2013. This year the defending race winners pilot a McLaren 650S GT3, backed by Darrell Lea Chocolates.

Quinn said: “I’m honoured to have Garth Tander join me again in the McLaren in what is Highlands Motorsport Park’s biggest motor racing event of the year. While I think it would be most unusual to win again this year – of course we didn’t think we’d win the last time at Highlands until the last lap – we’ll approach it the same way this year. We’ll just try and get to the end and see what transpires.”

Quinn’s son Klark has again enlisted the assistance of Kiwi racing star Shane Van Gisbergen. The pair weren’t able to finish last year’s 101 in a Porsche, but returning with McLaren 650S GT3 this year, the odds may swing in their favour due to Van Gisbergen’s success behind the wheel of various McLaren GT race cars in the last 12 months. Plenty will be backing the younger Quinn and the New Zealander famed for his passionate, all-out approach to racing to take their inaugural Highlands 101 win.

Racing at last year’s Bathurst 12 Hour race in a McLaren, Van Gisbergen joined the Quinns and Scotsman Andrew Kirkaldy, whose European CRS Racing team developed the GT3 version of the McLaren MP4-12C model.

Van Gisbergen says: “I had such a good time with the McLaren at the 12 Hour last year with the Quinns and Andrew. We put on a good show to come fourth and that led to me getting the factory drive with McLaren [where Van Gisbergen raced for Von Ryan Racing to win two rounds of the Blancpain Endurance Series in a McLaren], so thanks to the Quinns for that. Doing GT racing this year has been a good experience and helped me to learn the McLaren a lot more. It’s been a good year trying out GT stuff so I should be a little better when we come to Highlands.

“It’s just such an awesome track,” he says. “Tony’s done such a great job building that place, and then building a reputation around it. I’m looking forward to going back there. Having not raced in the Australian GT series this year, due to the date conflicts with V8 Supercars, I’ve been watching it all and see how good the series is now. So many good cars and big fields, it’s going to be cool to be part of it again!”

Re race strategy, Van Gisbergen says: “Last year Klark did the run, because the year before he didn’t do it. I’ve never done the run, so it might be my turn this year! It’s such a unique way to start a race. When I was sitting in the pit lane and heard the buzzer go off, it’s probably half a minute or so waiting for everyone to run, but it seems like forever. Just waiting, Klark wasn’t the fastest runner and seeing others go out while we were waiting, well…it’s a pretty exciting way to start a race.”

Tony Quinn’s two-time 101 race-winning Aston Martin also returns to this year’s event, this time in the hands of well-known Australian racer Andrew Miedecke and his son George, and being run by expat Kiwi Ross Stone.

Stone says he thinks the sky’s the limit with GT racing. “If you want to do overseas GT races, you can, or you can just stick to Australia and New Zealand; there’s plenty there to do. There will be even more options with the new Australian GT sprint and endurance championships next year.”

Stone and Miedecke ran the Aston for the first time at Sandown in September with Miedecke commenting that it went as well as he expected, but not quite as well as he had hoped!

“That being said with some time to think and a couple of small changes to the car to suit me, I expect to be more competitive at Highlands,” says Miedecke. “I really am looking forward to driving with George. I am reaching the end of a long career in the sport and it has been a long-held wish for George and me to drive together.”

George Miedecke is equally enthusiastic about racing at Highlands. “It looks amazing. From the first videos I saw with the Quinns when it was still dirt, it looked like an amazing place. I’ve been following the event for the last two years as I had friends racing and it looks like a blast. Jumps, kerbs, sweepers and the carrousel – I can’t wait!”

He rates the Le Mans-style running race start as fun. “With my height (6′ 5”) I’ve got a fair bit of pace when I get moving so I’m looking forward to gaining a competitive advantage there. I’m sure our pace will be very similar on the track and that gives us flexibility, but we’ve got a pretty harsh driver rating so unfortunately while we’d love to win that will be hard. That being said, I think we’ll be consistent and are looking for a strong top five or 10 placing.”

Other well-known New Zealanders with serious international credentials contesting the Highlands 101 enduro include Fabian Coulthard who’s joining Peter Fitzgerald in an Audi and Craig Baird who’ll co-drive Scott Taylor’s Porsche GT3-R.

The 29-strong Highlands 101 field is comprised largely of competitors from the Australian GT Championship who are contesting their two-race final round on the Saturday of the Highlands 101 race weekend.

With more than 25 cars entered in the 1+01 one-hour race and nearly 20 in the Euromarque category, excellent racing is expected from the support categories. Motorcycle stunts and a special demonstration run from superbike racer Sloan Frost on his Suzuki GSXR1000 superbike add to the on-track entertainment. Spectators can also enjoy a special helicopter display featuring a former British Army Air Corps helicopter, a 1960s-built Westland Scout courtesy of the team from Warbirds over Wanaka, and flyboard demonstrations on the Highlands lake.

The events schedule includes competitor practice sessions on Friday 13 November with public viewing available from the top terrace with a weekend pass or an entry ticket to the Highlands’ national motorsport museum. On Saturday and Sunday, paying spectators can enjoy the free pit-lane walks, practice and racing from all classes, great viewing sites around the circuit, an array of local food and beverage providers and entertainment. To purchase tickets online, visit TicketDirect and search for ‘Highlands 101’. Tickets are also available at the gate. More information about the Highlands 101 and the many activities and adventures running daily at Highlands Motorsport Park is available from or find Highlands on Facebook or Twitter.

Related Stories

Join in the conversation!