'World-class' motorsport park opens in Cromwell

Craig Baird drives Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony
Quinn's McLaren MP4-12C GT3 to set the first lap record on the new track, in a time of 1.41:9. Photo: Lynda van Kempen
Craig Baird drives Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn's McLaren MP4-12C GT3 to set the first lap record on the new track, in a time of 1.41:9. Photo: Lynda van Kempen

Mecca for motorsport enthusiasts - the $20 million Highlands Motorsport Park at Cromwell - was opened with few formalities but masses of action on the track today.

Between 7000 and 8000 people turned up for the first day of the park's opening festival and drivers and spectators showered the facility with praise.

The complex covers 88ha, includes a 4.5km track, a 48-garage Gasoline Alley, a motorsport museum, go-kart track and restaurant.

Owner Tony Quinn, a self-made multimillionaire based in Queensland, paid tribute to the work of those who came up with the idea for the facility, and persevered through the lengthy resource consent process.

Jim Richards, who was given the honour of cutting the ribbon to open the track and driving the opening lap, said the park was ''world class - as good as anything overseas''.

Craig Baird, who drove Tony Quinn's McLaren MP4-12C to set the first lap record of 1.41:9, agreed with the ''world class'' tag and said the park ''captured the essence of motorsport today''.

''Everyone can enjoy it, from the competitors, to the people having a wine while they're looking at the action on the track, to the kids racing around the go-kart track - that's what it's all about.''

The track was sensational, he said, and it was incredible to think the entire facility had been built in about a year.

The festival featured laps by about 60 vehicles, from race cars and rally cars through to a Superkart. Cars as diverse as an Aston Martin, Porsche, and a 1906 Darracq grand prix car later gave way to a Ferrari, Datsuns, and a BMW Mini.

Central Otago mayor Tony Lepper said Mr Quinn came to the Central Otago District Council about a year ago saying ''this is going to happen''.

''We thought he was the real deal and holy moley, 12 months later, look at it now.''

The festival continues tomorrow with the official opening of the motorsport museum on site by Sir Colin Giltrap, and action throughout the afternoon on the track.