Five years of endurance racing

By David Thomson on Sat, 11 Nov 2017

Has it really been five years since Tony Quinn brought international circuit racing to Central Otago with the original Highlands 101?

Apparently so, as this weekend sees the fifth running of the now annual GT endurance event at the fabulous Highlands Motorsport Park on the outskirts of Cromwell.

You can find out more about this weekend's main event elsewhere in this edition of the Otago Daily Times, while here in Drivesouth we preview one of the supporting events that features a strong contingent of local drivers.

Looking back on the past four Highlands endurance events, Quinn is the only driver to have won twice. Those wins came in the first two years of the event, behind the wheel of an Aston Martin Vantage GT3, partnering Fabian Coulthard in 2013 and Garth Tander in 2014. I recall 2015 being noteworthy for Tony's son Klark partnering Kiwi V8 Supercar ace Shane van Gisbergen to victory in a McLaren. Then, last year, another Kiwi, Craig Baird, joined forces with Australian Michael Almond to win in a Mercedes-AMG GT3. T

his weekend it's all change to the race format, with the Highlands 101 (comprising 101 laps of the 4.1km track) morphing into the Highlands 501, run over 501km. Do your maths, and that works out at an extra 21 laps. While that may not sound like a massive change, it's enough to add a third pit-stop to the mix. Combine that with two driver changes, and teams will need a different strategy to run a winning race.

Not having seen a final entry list for the main event when this editorial was penned, I haven't risked picking a likely winner for the main Highlands 501 event, which will start after lunch tomorrow.

But what I do know for sure is that this year's Australian GT championship - for which Highlands is the final round - is now a three- horse race between Jaxon Evans and Tim Miles (Audi TR8), Dom Storey and Peter Hackett (Mercedes-Benz) and Liam Talbot and John Martin (Porsche).

Expatriate Kiwis Evans and Miles won the opening two races in Australia, but finished runners-up at the penultimate round at Hampton Downs. Victory in that race went to Story and Hackett, who also claimed second place in one of the Australian rounds. Talbot and Martin, meanwhile, have a third, fourth and sixth placing to their names.

To secure the title, Evans and Miles must finish fourth or better this weekend. It doesn't sound like much of an ask, but over 501 kilometres of racing anything can happen.

Changing tack, I have enjoyed the extensive feedback readers have provided on last weekend's ugly cars editorial. Look out for more on this subject next weekend.

David Thomson