Day 3 began with 180kms from Queenstown to Invercargill. The run along Lake Wakatipu from Frankton to Kingston is a good one. All be it brief. Some tight twisty elevation changes, skirting the lake with big rock walls means the exhausts bounce and echo around you. The last time I drove the road I was in a Ferrari 430 spider and a Lamborghini Murcielago with Freeman X Supercars so I’d had a run on it before.
It’s one of the most spectacular drives around- a blue lake, snow-capped mountains and flowing corners. After that things straighten out on the run to Invercargill. Now if you’re from NZ you know it’s reputation- the Tasmania of Australia, anywhere in the southern USA like Alabama if you get my drift… But I was pleasantly surprised! Leafy tree-lined streets, amazing sports facilities and period 1900s buildings. The people were friendly and the restaurants lovely- I’d highly recommend Buster Crabs.
The hotel car park turned into a car wash lane giving us a chance to give them a clean and go over ready for the first track- Teretonga. We then went down to the track for a quick recce and first impressions were its narrow and no run off! Rain was forcast too. Gulp! Back at the hotel others were arriving- a 1000hp R32 GTR, R35 GTR, Cayman, 997 Targa, supercharged Nissan 350Z and an AC Cobra replica. It was an eclectic mix.
Morning came and in typical fashion after fine weather the whole way down the drivers briefing started with the heavens opening.
The format was to be the same at each track. Starting with four to five familiarization laps to learn at a slow pace then a rotation of slow, fast and prestige cars in 15 minute sessions. Up first in the rain on semi slick tyres on a cold unknown track- fair to say I was nervous. My whole mantra for the trip was to just learn about the car and bring it home in one piece. So the first few laps were slow and steady. The initial feeling was understeer and a slightly numb feeling for grip. I couldn’t feel the surface well and the rain kept pelting down. Session one wasn’t much fun but a learning experience none the less. The hardy went out while the convertibles hid in the garages. Session two I started to think a bit more. I’d been going into corners too fast and washing wide then getting on the power to gingerly- it was unsettling. As a dry line started to appear the back stepped out as a timely reminder it was still cold and not much grip. Reviewing the mini moment I was glad to see it’d keep on the power and not lifted. My lasting memories of Teretonga were the R32 drifting in my rear view mirror and the bright yellow Evo 6 rally car with full wets reeling me in at an alarming rate with four-wheel drive. It ate me for lunch! My day was cut short by some ‘man planning’. Booking the trip I’d forgotten my wife and I had a wedding to attend in Taupo. Airpoints saved the day with a flight from Invercargill to Christchurch, then to Wellington then the Taupo. People wed, good time had. The next day was a flight to Auckland then to Queenstown direct to meet back up with the crew and my car.
From Queenstown to Cromwell is a stunning drive along the Gibbston Highway. There are some magnificent properties, wineries, old gold mining parts, the AJ Hackett bungy and scenery straight out of the Lord of the Rings.
Highlands Motorsport Park– a big kids paradise and the personal playground of one man- Tony Quinn. It’s an interesting read about the project. Funded by Mr Quinn no expense has been spared and the result is a world class venue the likes of NZ hasn’t seen before. The model is like a country club for car nuts. Buy your membership and you get access to the track up to 80 days a year. Private garages hold some exquisite cars that I’d seen on a visit to watch the Highlands 101 (the Australian GT series which is also owned by Quinn- think McLaren 12c, Ferrari 458, 911 RSR’s and Audi R8GT’s etc racing). Tucked away I’d seen a Ford GT, Ferrari 599 GTO, heard a rumored Lamborghini Aventador 50th Anniversary in there and a number of 996 Cup cars. It was the track I was most looking forward to driving. The track had been designed on an iPad by overlaying their favorite corners around the world- the carousel from the Nurburgring, the bus stop from Spa, over bridge from Suzuka plus some of their own ideas- a long, long constant radius right hander and a tightening double apex onto the start finish straight. Now it’d been warned there was lots of concrete and that just like the Nurburgring, if you hit the fence, you buy it. The day was overcast but dry and the man himself was up in the Motorsport Museum showing VIPs around (where there were no less than 3 Mercedes SLR Stirling Moss’, a Ferrari Enzo, an ex-Schumacher Benneton F1 car and the old NZ A1 Gp car ‘Black Beauty) so we were told to me on our best behavior and not to drop any oil on the concrete pads!
My first session I was a little ham-fisted. The concrete approaches fast and it’s a technical circuit to remember. After some coaching and a ride in the RS to learn the lines it started to all click into place. By the third session I’d found my groove and loving it. I can hear myself talking aloud coaching myself on the Go Pro using all the track letting it run wide and repeating ‘slow in, fast out’. Racing over the top of the bridge is a novelty as you need to pick your braking points early as the car lightens going up and over. Felt particularly in my car being on standard suspension and quite soggy it was living up to its name of looking like a rally car- or a 911 on stilts by comparison to the RS and GT3. Pleasingly I was able to keep the GT3 in my mirrors as the day progressed and I felt my more comfortable.
Highlands is well worth the visit just as a tourist destination. You can visit the museum, go for Hot Laps in a Lamborghini Huracan or Cayenne Turbo or drive yourself in a Suzuki Swift or take the kids on the go karts or dirt buggies. Or while you do that there’s the Parsons Nose cafe with an open fire and plenty of wines.
A brilliant day out was capped off with the best place for a steak in Queenstown- Botswana Butchery with plenty of banter and tall stories from the track.
Two tracks down, two to go.