Greg Murphy and ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett are two of the big-name New Zealand drivers confirmed for Hampton Downs 101 and Highlands 101, but there are a couple of Australian-based Kiwis who are excited about the opportunity to race on home soil.
Craig Baird is one of the most successful New Zealand drivers of his generation, and he’s predicting that motorsport fans in this country will be blown away by the Australian GT cars and drivers that are headed this way.
“This will probably be the best showcase of motor cars that you will ever see in New Zealand,” Baird told NZ Herald recently. “Some rounds we have had up to 36 current FIA GT3 cars running — that is everything from Mercedes, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Audi, Lamborghini … right through the range.”
Some of the drivers to feature in the events at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park (October 28–30) and Highlands Motorsport Park (November 11–13) include four-time Bathurst winners Greg Murphy and Steven Richards, Australian V8 racers Garth Tander, Michael Caruso, Tony D'Alberto, Dean Canto, veteran touring-car driver Tony Longhurst, and Kiwi drifting star ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett.
Baird will line up alongside Scott Taylor in a Mercedes AMG for the Hampton Downs 101 — the inaugural event on the new international layout circuit at the North Waikato track. It will mark the first time the one-kilometre extension to the existing track has been used in competition, and Baird believes that the challenge for drivers will make for exciting racing. He said the facilities at both Hampton Downs Motorsport Park and Highlands Motorsport Park are as good as anywhere he races.
“Both of those two circuits are better than a lot of the tracks in Australia. Especially Hampton Downs now with the extensions.”
Dominic Storey is another who’s chomping at the bit to race around Hampton Downs. Storey grew up racing go-karts against what has turned out to be a golden generation for New Zealand motorsport.
“I won the National Schools Champs a couple of times, and I was always competitive at national level, but I was up against guys like Shane van Gisbergen, Earl Bambe,r and Brendon Hartley,” said Storey. “I went to school with Shane. He was fast back then and I’ve been chasing him ever since.”
The 27-year-old from Remuera, Auckland had all but given up on his motorsport dreams last year after stints in Europe and Asia didn’t quite work out as planned. But an opportunity to drive in the Australian GT Championship has given him another shot at the big time. “It’s funny because I took last year off and didn't pursue anything, and this year everything just fell into place,” he said.
Storey is currently lying fourth in the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship (AEC) ahead of the final two rounds in New Zealand — Hampton Downs 101 on October 30 and the Highlands 101 in Central Otago on November 13.
“A lot of my support and sponsors come from New Zealand,” he explained. “I'm looking forward to being able to show off what we can do and how Australian GT works. It's going to be a good showcase of the future of motorsport in this part of the world because I think GT racing is where it's at.”
Storey is also looking forward to the challenge of coming to grips with the newly extended Hampton Downs circuit. Familiar with the original layout, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver believes the recently completed redevelopment has transformed it into a world-class facility.
“Hampton Downs has always been good to me,” he said. “I’ve had some good results there in the past. While it was a great facility before Tony Quinn took it over, I think now it's a world-class facility. The old track was just a little bit too small, but the new extension looks very challenging and quite technical, so it will be interesting to see how it flows into the old part of the circuit.”
Together with co-driver Peter Hackett — who is the third most successful driver in Australian GT history and unlucky not to have at least one title to his name — they form a strong and balanced driver combination. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has proved itself a race-winning car, and the Eggleston Motorsport team one of the best in the business. For Storey, the events at Hampton Downs and Highlands Motorsport Park provide him the perfect opportunity to secure the biggest results of his career, with the added benefit of doing it on home soil.
“We’re the dark horse for the championship but I know I’ve got the experience to win at this level and it would be great to do it here in New Zealand.”