Two of New Zealand motorsport’s biggest names will team up for this weekend’s Highlands 501 in Cromwell. V8 Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen and drifting legend ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett will drive one of Tony Quinn’s two McLarens in the last Australian GT event to be held at the Central Otago track.
The Whiddett and van Gisbergen pairing was selected via an online poll on Highlands Facebook page. Tony Quinn and Highlands resident driving professional, Andrew Waite will race in the other McLaren.
For drift superstar, ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett, it’s another chance to show off his circuit racing skills after an impressive debut at last year’s Hampton Downs 101.
“It’s a dream come true to get back to Highlands and have another crack in a GT car,” says Whiddett. “For me, being a rookie, it will be awesome to spend a weekend with SVG and I’m confident we’ve got the speed to compete with the top guys.”
“I definitely surprised myself last year. I had no idea how I was going to stack up so to qualify the car in the top ten at Hampton Downs and Highlands was a huge confidence boost. Circuit racing and drifting are two totally different beasts but my drifting experience has certainly helped me adapt quickly to racing. I know how to maintain control of a car when it’s dancing on the edge. When the car does get away from me, it doesn’t scare me or freak me out. That allows me to push it really hard.”
Highlands has been a happy hunting ground for van Gisbergen who won the Highlands 101 in 2015 with Klark Quinn.
“Last year I wasn’t able to race at Highlands because of my schedule,” says van Gisbergen. “‘Mad Mike’ took my place and I did some coaching with him before the event to help him get up to speed. He picked up things so fast and his ability to adapt was very impressive. He drove exceptionally well for someone who’s never done it before and I’m looking forward to seeing how much he’s improved this year.”
Highlands owner, Tony Quinn is hoping to maintain the impressive record of the Quinn family in the race.
“Since the first Highlands 101 in 2013, a Quinn has finished on the podium every year. It would be great if I could maintain that record this year,” says Quinn. “It would also be nice for Andrew Waite who is the resident professional driver at Highlands and he will have a lot of support from the members and the locals.”
It’s the last time the cars and stars of the Australian GT Championship will race around the Cromwell circuit but the team at Highlands is already looking forward to next year and an event that will celebrate New Zealand motorsport and driving talent.
“It’s been a hell of a journey over the last five years,” says Tony Quinn, the owner of Highlands. “Winning the first Highlands 101 with Fabian Coulthard was pretty cool. After we won I told him I’d give him $5000 if he could lift the trophy. What he didn’t know was the trophy was a big rock with a sword sticking out of it and he hadn’t a hope of lifting it!”
“Winning it with Garth Tander the next year was a fluky one but still very special. We were a distant second all day behind Craig Baird and Richard Muscat in the Mercedes-Benz until they ran out of petrol on the last lap. Shane van Gisbergen and my son Klark won it in 2016 and I was second last year with Greg Murphy.”
“I’m one of the few people in the world who is a circuit owner, event promoter, category owner, sponsor and race car driver and with all of those roles comes different responsibilities. We’ve had some scary moments. In 2015, a Lamborghini caught fire in the pits and a few laps later an Aston Martin ended up in the forest. Thankfully nobody was injured but it’s always a concern to me during the event, that everybody stays safe and enjoys themselves.”
“I’m very proud of the track, the event and the team at Highlands. We’ve put on a bigger and better event every year and the team punches above its weight. We’re committed to putting on a bigger and better event every year, and the plan for 2018 is for more of the same, except this time with a focus on homegrown New Zealand motorsport talent.”