If one was to put a wager on who will be the ultimate winner at the New Zealand Grand Prix weekend 23-24 January 2021, there is only one answer. And that is Hampton Downs!
In Toyota GAZOO Racing New Zealand’s media release this week, CEO of Hampton Downs, Josie Spillane is correct in saying that Shane van Gisbergen driving in the NZ Grand Prix at the circuit will be ‘a massive drawcard’.
There is no doubt about it, the announcement this week that van Gisbergen will be on the grid will sell tickets. He is, and rightly so, a very poplar driver and is always quick in anything he gets into. He will be a potential Grand Prix winner.
If he wins the NZGP, it would be a populist victory.
Spillane is also quoted in the media release as saying that the race has been ‘coined the Race of Champions’.
This gives us the next clue as to who else is likely to be on the dance card. Don’t be surprised if we see the likes of double TRS champion Daniel Gaunt (2005/06, 2006/07), – he beat van Gisbergen in the 2007 NZ GP at Teretonga Park, Chris van der Drift (he competed in the 2006 NZGP at Teretonga Park) or even Andre Heimgartner on the grid.
Add in Jonny Reid, who already has his name on the trophy, winning the NZ Grand Prix back in 2003, again at Teretonga Park, competing in a Formula Ford.
Current NZ Formula Ford champion Billy Frazer is likely to be announced shortly. He made his intentions very clear 12-months ago of wanting to compete in TRS this summer, and he will be quick. Keep an eye on this talented young man.
Throw in some young Formula Ford drivers’ who have reportedly been testing in a FT50 and you almost have a grid.
In fact, any good driver younger than Ken Smith, could be on the grid. What about Murph?
The above names are, at this stage, speculation but with good reason as I have had numerous conversations with potential NZ drivers.
It raises the question, would any of those entering the GP be doing so in a normal year with the high standard of international talent that we have come to expect?
So, is it a Race of Champions or the NZ Grand Prix? Are we better to have all these names on the grid or should the trophy be locked away for a year?
As I said to a fellow journalist while discussing the clash of dates between the NZGP and the Taupo Historic Grand Prix (on the same weekend at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park), Toyota NZ and Speed Works have to just get on with running the 2021 Castrol Toyota Racing Series and make it work.
Some of the decisions may not be well received, while others will be very popular. Most of us won’t understand the changing variables of the coronvirus environment in which decisions have to be made.
As to our original question in the title, is there a difference between hitting a wall in a midget at a speedway track and a FT 60 doing the same at Hampton Downs?
The obvious answer is that one will be more expensive than the other but the real answer would have to come from van Gisbergen’s Triple Eight Race Engineering boss, Roland Dane. He is reported on Speedcafe (26 November 2020) as not wanting van Gisbergen to compete in speedway back in NZ, forcing the Bathurst winner to cancel his appearance in a four-round series at Western Springs in Auckland announced three-days earlier.