The sky's the limit for world's longest gravel hillclimb

Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima
Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima
The Cardrona Valley Race to the Sky motorsport hill climb will be revived next year and multiple past winner ''Monster'' Tajima, of Japan, will return to defend his title.

The once high-profile event will be back with a new organiser - Highland Motorsport Park - and a new claim to fame as the longest gravel hillclimb in the world.

Race to the Sky was last held in 2007, when world-renowned veteran driver Tajima (64) claimed his eighth victory out of nine starts.

Tajima will be in New Zealand to refamiliarise himself with the Pisa Range race course on Monday and help launch the countdown to the event's return on April 17-19, Highland general manager Mike Sentch told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

''He wanted any excuse to come back to New Zealand, so he's coming out for a week to spend a bit of time ... He wants to see Highlands. He's heard so much about it. And he wants to come back and revisit the mountain and give his support, which is absolutely fantastic.''

Tajima was a ''big drawcard'', but the Race to the Sky's new status as the world's longest gravel hillclimb had serious pulling power, too, Mr Sentch said.

The event's sister race is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the United States, also known as the Race to the Clouds, which previously held the ''longest'' honour until its gravel course was sealed in 2012.

''There's a lot of bike guys that are very keen [on Race to the Sky]. Manufacturers are very keen. They see it as a proving point now. Because it is the longest gravel hillclimb in the world it's got a bit of kudos to it ... [it] is obviously very good for a manufacturer to say `we've won it'.

Mr Sentch expected the event to attract between 100 and 120 competitors across the classes, which include 2WD, 4WD, motorbikes and quad bikes.

He also hoped to add a new side-by-side racing class, which uses motorcycle-powered utility vehicles.

The event will involve MotorSport New Zealand, Motorcycling New Zealand and possibly the Offroad Association of New Zealand.

''It's different than running just a plain out race meeting under one governing body ... so there's a few challenges. But we're looking forward to getting into it.''

Mr Sentch said the Cardrona community had been ''fantastically supportive'' of plans to revive the event.

''They're obviously very proud of what they have up there at Cardrona and they're wanting to share it with the world, which is very, very cool.''

The next step was applying to the Queenstown Lakes District Council for resource consent.

''We can't see anything that's going to be a problem. There's no curly bits in it. It's basically an event and it's just got to be managed, as we manage every event ... correctly.''

The organisers were unsure whether the event would be held annually or every second year, ''but certainly the first year, I think, will be huge''.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz