Tony Quinn, the man behind Highlands Motorsport Park and the revival of New Zealand’s famed Race to the Sky hillclimb event, has commissioned the construction of a purpose-built 850hp race car specifically to try and break the race’s eight minute barrier.
The Scottish businessman, who splits his time between Australia’s Gold Coast and New Zealand’s Central Otago, says he went to Queensland-based engineer Paul Ceprnich of Pace Innovations with the brief to build a car capable of a time of eight minutes or less on the 14.5km Repco Race to the Sky course.
The current record of 8min 01.17sec was set in 2006 by eight-time Race to the Sky King of the Mountain champion Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima who returns to this year’s event to try and retain his title.
Quinn says: “We need to set the record at Repco Race to the Sky before Sébastien Loeb decides to add that record to his astounding results at Pikes Peak. If he decides he’s set on world domination of hillclimb events, I’m sure he’ll come here soon – I really hope he does – but let’s also hope we can hold the record for a year or two first! So the first challenge is to beat the eight minute mark, and that’s the challenge I set Paul Ceprnich. He has all the credentials to build a car like this – he’s the guy who built the V8 Supercars Car of the Future, designed the NZ V8 SuperTourer and any number of other super competitive cars.”
Ceprnich has utilised a body shell based on Ford Focus around a space-frame chassis. A mid-mounted VR38 twin-turbo Nissan engine provides the 850 of horsepower to rocket the 950 kg machine up the 1:11 gradient of gravelled road. Massive wings provide the downforce – designed to be 1000 kg of downforce at 200 km/h – needed to keep all that power on the road while GP2 carbon fibre brakes provide the stopping power to safely navigate the 135 corners of the Repco Race to the Sky course.
The car’s build and testing programme will be completed in Australia by the end of March before it’s shipped to Central Otago in early April. Ceprnich will be on-hand to engineer the car at the event.
One key aspect of the car’s debut at the 2015 Repco Race to the Sky yet to be decided is who’s going to drive it.
Quinn admits he could be the weak link as the driver. “I’m pretty sure that I’m not quick enough to do it. If it was tarmac, I would be a whole lot more confident. It could be someone from Australia or someone from New Zealand. If Hayden Paddon wasn’t running at WRC Rally Argentina that weekend, it would have been great to have him in the car! But for now the seat’s up for grabs. Another option is that we can run two drivers – me and someone else. We’ll have to see.
“The thing is, it’s a bit like being the first year back for the event, while it’s exciting to see how much people are looking forward to the event coming back, I’m cautious not to build it up too much. The important thing is to make sure we run it as well as it should be and let’s see how we go from there. And the car’s much the same – this first event might be more of a test run. We just want to get it right and the speed will come.”
On the Highlands Motorsport Park Facebook page, dozens of members of the public have already suggested their favourite nickname for the new race car. The top three favourites are being selected by the Highlands’ team and these will be put to public vote on the Facebook page by 21 March.
Tickets for Repco Race to the Sky are now on sale online from Ticket Direct or from the Highlands Motorsport Park offices. An adult one-day pass, valid for Saturday or Sunday, costs $50 and a two-day adult pass $80. Children under 16 years of age have free entry when accompanied by a paying adult. Commemorative programmes can be purchased on-site for $10.