Over the Tasman, GT racing has seen a massive resurgence during the last couple of years and race track owner Tony Quinn is bringing the sport to a wider New Zealand audience.
Australian GT Championship competitors will cross the Tasman to compete at two events; the Highlands 101 and the Hampton Downs 101, where cars will race 101 laps at each circuit as part of the Australian Endurance Championship (AEC) series.
The cars themselves are pretty spectacular; all conforming to FIA GT3 specification, they are at the sharp edge of performance ability. This year all competing cars are 2016 model year examples hailing from premium carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini.
Competition is carefully managed with ‘Balance of Performance’ rules, ensuring all cars compete on an equal footing, which creates an interesting mix of competition with front, rear and mid-engined performance cars all racing side-by-side.
Quinn argues that now GT racing is more relevant for both fans and race teams than that traditional benchmark of Australian circuit competition, V8s.
“I get accused of bias all the time, but look at the facts; Mercedes, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi – every premium carmaker in the world is represented in the sport. That gives it currency with manufacturers, distributors, drivers and race fans alike,” he says.
“We have a situation where, over in Australia, the two main brands competing in V8 Supercars are moving away from that type of vehicle. GT racing might feature a grid filled with the average guy’s fantasy cars. But then again, in the years ahead, the idea of a traditional Aussie V8 will be something of a fantasy too.”
Quinn also points to the globally standardised specification of the GT cars taking the field here. GT and endurance racing cars competing in both the northern and southern hemispheres are identical; for top tier drivers this means a professional driving career within GTs remains viable with plenty of counter-season racing opportunities in familiar cars.
“The category also has untold benefits for race teams. You might not realise it watching these machines competing flat-out around Highlands or Hampton Downs, but the race engines are good for 20,000km. They’re highly precise engines but they’re not screaming at the top end of their limits like V8 engines are, so they require less rebuild work.
“And again, because of that level of standardisation, in a couple of years’ time I can sell my GT car back to someone in France or wherever. As an owner, once your V8 Supercar has done its dash, the market for it is slim and getting slimmer,” Quinn says.
With two of the four AEC rounds in New Zealand, the championship series is very much an Australasian affair. The inaugural Highlands 101 in 2013 was the first time a round of the GT Championship was held outside of Australia. This year’s event at Hampton Downs in late-October will be the first time the series has visited the North Island.
Article by Cameron Officer / NBR
Art Dept September 13, 2016
Posted In: News