$1.5m vehicle test track on Pisa Range

 Phill Thomson
Phill Thomson
A $1.5 million motor vehicle test track is being carved out of a hillside at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds, on the Pisa Range above Cardrona Valley.

The proving grounds are an array of high country roads used by car and tyre manufacturers to test their products in snow and ice.

The track under construction will be level, circular, 1km long and 50m wide.

With its own snow-making machines, the new track is designed to simulate winter conditions vehicles may encounter on the high-speed autobahns of Germany.

It will enable car designers to test such things as stability and traction control systems.

Proving ground managing director Tom Elworthy said having the new track meant car companies could expand their testing programmes and would probably stay in New Zealand longer.

''It's pretty expensive to fly cars to New Zealand. [The track] makes it a bit easier to justify the cost if they can tick a few more boxes while they are down here.''

To achieve an exact circle, earthmoving contractor Phill Thomson is using a GPS system, accurate to within 1mm. He said it took the guesswork out of the earthworks, not only making for a better end result but also a more efficient programme of work, with no more material than was strictly necessary being shifted.

By the end of April, he hoped to have repositioned 150,000cu m of material.

Part of the process involves precise shaping of the cut and fill slopes above and below the track and replanting them with tussocks.

Seven staff were working on the project and Mr Thomson aimed to be finished by the end of April.

Mr Elworthy said the proving ground company was considering establishing more facilities in South America.

The operation on the Pisa Range was limited by the topography, he said.

''You need large areas of flat land that are cold.''

While there were issues about setting up in South America, Mr Elworthy said there were advantages in being further south, in a colder climate with more flat land available so car and tyre companies could test their products at higher speeds.

''It's all about speed for some of them.''

The Pisa Range facilities can handle speeds of up to 140kmh ''but they want to go faster than that, surprisingly'', Mr Elworthy said.

''You go on the autobahns in Europe and it can be the middle of winter and minus 10 and everyone's doing 150kmh-160kmh.''

- mark.price@odt.co.nz