Kiwi drivers, Shane van Gisbergen, Dominic Storey and Jaxon Evans all showed good speed during today’s practice sessions for the Highlands 501.
Sunday’s feature race at the Cromwell circuit doubles as the final round of the Australian Endurance Championship. Australian-based Kiwis, Jaxon Evans and Tim Miles have led the championship all season and Evans was the quickest in today’s first practice session in the Audi R8 LMS with a time of 1:32.605.
Dominic Storey and Peter Hackett are within striking distance of the championship leaders and Storey, who led the field home at the Hampton Downs 500 two weeks, continued his good form with the fastest lap in the afternoon practice session in the Mercedes-Benz. Storey was over a second quicker than Evans with a 1:31.424.
Shane van Gisbergen was just three-tenths of a second off the pace set by Storey.
“It’s great to have Shane here this weekend because he’s such a good reference point for the rest of us,” says Storey. “He’s so good at everything he does and it could be a good thing for us because we need cars to finish between us and Jaxon and Tim. For us to win the title we need to come out on top this weekend and hope that as many other cars as possible are competitive.”
The driver pairing of van Gisbergen and ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett will be one to watch over the weekend.
“I’m just listening and learning from Shane and trying to soak it all up,” says Whiddett. “The only problem is that Shane is so fast, my lap times are a lot slower than his. I was nearly three seconds a lap slower but I’ve got to remind myself it’s an endurance race and it’s a long weekend. I’m still learning how hard to push the car in practice, qualifying and the race to make sure it lasts the weekend.”
Highlands resident professional, Andrew Waite has done more laps around Highlands than anyone and he was fifth fastest in Tony Quinn’s McLaren.
“I’ve done a heap of laps around here but it’s not as much of an advantage as I expected,” says Waite. “When I’m doing hot laps with customers, I’m looking after the car and the people in it. It’s very different to driving at this level. You’re talking maybe 25 seconds a lap slower so to try and flick that switch is a challenge. The level of commitment you need around here is huge. If you make one mistake it’s going to end badly.”
It’s the last time the Australian GT series will race in Central Otago and for Highlands owner, Tony Quinn it feels like the end of an era.
“We’ve had a great few years with the GTs and I’ve got some awesome memories,” says Quinn. “We’re close to confirming some big news for next year’s marquee event at Highlands. It will be different but it will be good and there will be more of a focus on New Zealand motorsport. We’ve got almost 40 local cars entered in the 1-Hour race at Highlands this weekend. They get the chance to race in front of family and friends and that’s pretty special.”
In the support categories at Highlands today, Hamish Collins won the first race of the meeting, in the Mazda Pro7 Series while Jarrod Owens won the first race in the Euromarque category.
The action gets underway at 9 am tomorrow morning at Highlands with qualifying for the Highlands 501 at 12.55 and 2.20pm followed by the Top Ten Shootout at 3.50pm. Tickets are available at the gate or at www.highlands.co.nz