Your Guide to Motor Racing Tracks in New Zealand
Posted on May 15, 2018 – Motoring Events
When it comes to racing circuits, we are spoilt for choice in New Zealand with eight racing tracks, four on each island, complete with tight corners and fast straights. And we have come a long way since the first races taking place on beaches, grass tracks or the very first 1.6km purpose-built circuit in Levin in 1956, inside a horse racing facility! Our tracks are now state of the art and worthy of international competition.
Pukekohe Park Raceway
Built in 1962, this circuit opened the following year after the NZ Grand Prix left Ardmore Aerodrome as a venue. Like the tracks in Levin, it was built around a horse racetrack and it has remained that way to this day.
As this move was unexpected and last-minute, the track had to be built in only six months. It cost $75,000 at the time, the equivalent of $500,000 in today’s terms.
It was originally a compact and long track with a sweeper that became infamous for its difficulty and a few hairpin bends followed by a long straight line where pilots could speed to their hearts’ content. In 1967, the sweeper was removed because it was too close to the starting line and created congestion.
This change gave birth to the layout we know nowadays, a 2.85km track. It was upgraded a few years ago, at the cost of $6.8 million to include three new corners to create passing opportunities and lower the top speed. It was also lined almost entirely with concrete barriers.
Hampton Downs Motorsport Park
Located in northern Waikato, this track opened in 2008. If its bends and turns look familiar, it is perhaps because it was designed to mimic famous corners from around the globe such as the big dipper of Bathurst, the blind crest of Nürburgring and a bend similar to Brands Hatch’s.
The building of this race circuit was done in two stages. The first one cost $120 million and delivered a 2.8km track in dirt, with eight corners and a straight line of almost a kilometre. The second phase added a drift section which can be used separately.
This track is renowned for its great versatility as it can be used as three different circuits of 1.5km, 3km and 4.5km. It offers banked corners and three long straights with many hair-rising overtaking possibilities.
It is one of the few circuits in NZ that has been used for international events such as the World Superbike finals, and it is renowned for having one of the best drifting section in the country.
Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park
Located in Taupo, this is another track that can be used in different configurations of 1.3 to 3.5 km. First opened in 1959 as a 1.6km dirt track, it was gradually upgraded to the layout we know today with new pits and a new control tower added in 2005 which make it possible for the venue to run two events on separate tracks at the same time. It runs anticlockwise like all races, except for the drift section which is driven clockwise.
Mike Pero Motorsport Park
Opened by the Canterbury Car Club in 1963, which still owns it and runs it today, Mike Pero Motorsport Park is the most versatile of NZ’s circuits, with seven possible configurations of track from 1.1km to 3.38km. It is also one of the oldest. It is known to be very fast thanks to a few long straights, the main one being used for the Pegasus Bay Hot Rod’s Club NZDRA. It also has the longest drift section in NZ, making it the ideal venue for the D1NZ and Drift South events.
Turn 3 is a hairpin bend and particularly challenging. It has to be negotiated at low speed or pilots end up losing grip and crashing.
Teretonga Park is the grand old lady of NZ’s racing tracks, being the second one to be built, and put in service in 1957. Originally a shorter circuit, it was extended to its current length of 2.62km in 1966.
Located in Invercargill, it is the world’s southernmost FIA-graded track! It features a 850m straight, sweeping corners and a heart-stopping sweeping loop that was copied at Highlands Park. Its other claim to fame is to be the second-fastest track in Australasia after Sydney’s Motorsport Park.
Timaru International Raceway
Built in 1967 by another car association, the South Canterbury Car Club, it was originally shorter at 1.6km and it wasn’t until 1988 that it was extended to its current length of 2.4km.
In recent years, housing has developed significantly around the track which has led to it being used in a limited way as the 95db noise limit is strictly enforced.
It is a somewhat challenging track to race, due to the often unpredictable weather on the South Island, as water pools often appear on the trackside in wet weather. Turn 5 is particularly notorious in the wet and sees many crashes and car spinning.
Highlands Motorsport Park
The longest track in New Zealand at 4.5km, it is made of three separate tracks that can be used independently or combined in five different configurations. Originally funded privately, business man and avid racer Tony Quinn purchased the majority of shares to finance the project which took only nine months to finish.
Unlike the other circuits, its use will be reserved for members.
It has a challenging layout with some features unique to New Zealand such as a carousel, a bridge and the southern loop through a forest. It doesn’t have many opportunities for overtaking either and the visibility through the forest is limited. A fun track but perhaps for the more experienced driver.
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