Highlands' deep pockets to challenge Manfeild for GP

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:00 23/12/2013
Highlands track

BENDY: An aerial shot of the Highlands Motorsport Park in Central Otago.

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The battle for New Zealand Grand Prix (NZGP) rights from 2015 to 2017 is looming as a tug of war between Manfeild Park and the new Highlands Motorsport Park circuit in Central Otago.

The two factions even crossed paths when they presented their submissions to MotorSport New Zealand in Wellington on December 14.

The Highlands Park people were coming down the stairs when the Manfeild delegation of trust board chairman Ben Vanderkolk, chief executive Heather Verry and Toyota New Zealand's John Fowke were going up.

Highlands Park, a circuit built by multimillionaire Tony Quinn, is a new player in the motorsport scene and opened its impressive track at Cromwell at Easter.

"He has the advantage of novelty, ours is trust and past performance," Vanderkolk said.

"They are brand new, it's a fantastic facility, they have shown great vision and he is a great entrepreneur."

Quinn, who made his fortune in the pet-food industry in Australia, has been a frequent visitor to Palmerston North during the annual Targa Rally. He has been quoted as saying the NZGP had fizzled in the past decade.

Vanderkolk said Manfeild was more geared into giving back into the community and the region.

He acknowledges a well-resourced person like Quinn will bring big money into the equation.

"We don't think we can compete on that level. We can compete on our record and our relationship with Toyota New Zealand, which is very strong. We are evenly-pitched bids on a different playing field."

Others such as Pukekohe and Taupo might also have submitted bids, but Vanderkolk suspects his and Highland Park's are the strongest.

Manfeild have hosted the NZGP since 2008 after it left Teretonga in Invercargill. The event was poorly attended last year but next year's, February 8-9, should have way more lustre with the V8 SuperTourers racing on the same card, as well as the new Toyota TR 86s.

Vanderkolk though is more concerned about future meetings, with MNZ eager to grow the NZGP and make it a truly national event. The successful bidder will, ironically, be announced at the NZGP meeting at Manfeild.

Manfeild's bid had support from the Manawatu District Council, Horizons Regional Council and Rangitikei Member of Parliament Ian McKelvie. Toyota NZ have invested at Manfeild and they prefer to have the NZGP at the end of the five-round series so they can host everyone at their Palmerston North headquarters and farewell the international drivers.

Teams will not want to make more than one Cook Strait crossing. And to stage the NZGP in the middle of the series might persuade the overseas drivers to shorten their stay.

More than 25,000 spectators reportedly attended the three-day Highland 101 last month, the first major event at Cromwell.

On January 25-26, Highlands Park will also host a double-header with the Toyota Racing Series and the V8 SuperTourers.

Quinn was quoted in the Highlands' release: "One of the things on my bucket list is to hold the New Zealand Grand Prix at Highlands and I will do whatever it takes to accommodate this."

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- Manawatu Standard

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