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Oct 3, 2013

STRONG AGT FIELD FOR HIGHLANDS SEASON FINALE

Everyone who as so far seen Highlands Motorsport Park in the South Island of New Zealand has acknowledged that it goes well beyond expectation, and that it is truly a world-class facility, a facility that is constantly undergoing updates and changes ahead of it’s maiden event; the final round of the Australian GT Championship.

After much speculation about numbers the initial entry list has been revealed and the list is impressive, not just in its content, but in the calibre of cars and drivers.

Whilst the event does signal the final round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli with two 40-minute races to book-end the series, it also heralds the maiden ‘Highlands 101’, a three plus hour, 101-lap endurance race around the new facility for which every entered Australian GT car is eligible - an enticement which was just too good for the series regulars to pass up..

There have been some high profile additions to the final round of the championship, some returnees, and a surprise omission..

Notable of the returnees is the entry for current Highlands Motorsport Park lap record holder and Clipsal round winner Craig Baird. Baird will return to the wheel of the record-setting McLaren MP4-12C for the marques debut in the Australian championship, the sportscar star joined by Channel Seven’s V8 Supercar series expert and former driver Neil Crompton - the duo are expected to contend for the victory.

They’ll have their work cut out for them though, as reigning champion and 2013 champion-elect Klark Quinn has employed the services of one of New Zealand’s other favourite sons, V8 Supercar star Fabian Coulthard.

Klark is not expected to be the only Quinn with a high profile co-driver, with his father Tony - who is currently second in points - expected to make his own announcement very soon, with names like Shane Van Gisbergen being bandied around as possible co-drivers..

One of the absentees from Highlands will be Steven Richards, who was forced to withdraw from his role as co-driver for the GB Galvanizing Lamborghini team to meet commitments within Australia, elevating GB favourite and Bathurst 1000 starter Dale Wood to the co-drivers role.

And talking absentees, perhaps the biggest name to be missing from the entry list for New Zealand is that of Roger Lago. The Queenslander just recently took his Lamborghini Gallardo LP600+ to second outright in the Sepang 12-Hour behind Craig Baird, but due to business commitments has been forced to withdraw from the final round.

New Zealand’s favourite son Greg Murphy too will be back in action, piloting the mighty Trofeo Motorsport Corvette Z06.R, a car built by the same team that just recently won the ADAC GT Masters (the German GT3 series). Murphy was quick in the car the last time out at Queensland Raceway, running at the front of the field, and the Trofeo team have been working tirelessly to return the car to its pristine best ahead of the final round.

Former Australian GT front-runner Greg Crick too will make a return to the series behind the wheel of the big V10 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe he campaigned so successfully in Australia before selling it to Victorian Steve McLaughlan who is well on his way to wrapping up the GT Trophy crown for 2013.

With names like Greg Murphy, Craig Baird, Fabian Coulthard, John Bowe, Dean Canto, Jack Perkins, Dale Wood and Greg Crick in the field alongside the series regulars, you can guarantee the fight for outright victory will provide plenty of action.

There are four individual categories to be settled at Highlands though, with both GT Championship (Klark Quinn) and GT Trophy (McLaughlan) titles essentially sealed, whilst in GT Challenge, and GT Sports (GT4), bragging rights are yet to be established.

GT rookie Ben Foessel (Porsche 996 GT3 Cup) has had the Challenge class points lead since round one at Bathurst, and despite concerted efforts by fellow Queenslander Brendan Cook and co-driver Matt Kingsley, he retains the points lead heading to the final round, but it’s close, so close that Foessel has engaged the services of renowned Porsche front-runner Michael Almond.

In GT Sports the title race is on in earnest with all three of the competing Ginetta G50 GT4s in the hunt. The big challenge will be between points leader Mark Griffith and co-driver Jack Perkins, and early season points leader Michael Hovey. Thanks to his status as Griffith’s co-driver, Perkins can’t win the championship outright (Griffith has seven more points courtesy of doing Bathurst alone), whilst Hovey is back in his own car after an engine failure at Sydney forced him to share the drive with Tony Martin, who is also in the hunt for title victory.

Whilst you may suggest that the recent form of Griffith/Perkins will put them in good stead, their additional Compulsory Pit Stop (CPS) penalty by virtue of Perkins’ status as a professional driver, will allow Hovey and Martin to breach the gap across the two 40-minute races paving the way for another enthralling battle within a battle.

Whilst Highland Motorsport Park signals the final round of the 2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli, it also heralds what could be the start of one of the regions most enticing GT events, the Highlands 101. With few exceptions, the bulk of the Australian GT competitors will enter the ‘101’ - which is set for 101 laps of the 4.8-kilometre venue - the feature event on the calendar for Highland Park’s maiden event.

If you’re anywhere near the south island of New Zealand in the second weekend in November, you’d be mad not to come and see one of the most exciting fields in NZ motorsport’s history battle against the best New Zealand has to offer on one of the most exciting circuits in the southern hemisphere.

WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR?

GT Championship (for current specification GT3 cars)
You can never rule out Craig Baird, nor for that matter Greg Murphy, but look also to both Klark Quinn and Tony Quinn, although consider too their co-drivers, that may well be the key, although the more professional the driver (Murphy, Coulthard and Baird), the bigger the pitstop parity penalty.

GT Trophy (for two generation old GT3-spec cars)
Steve McLaughlan has all but wrapped up the title and with Greg Crick alongside will be tough to beat, but the big Viper has been a little fragile lately, and with Jinadasa’s Lamborghini all but returned to its original form over recent months, the fight for outright victory could be interesting. Don’t rule out a local challenge in the Highlands Mosler MT900 either..!

GT Challenge (Challenge class cars - Porsche/Ferrari)
There’s only 38 points in it, but Ben Foessel desperately wants that title after leading the points all season. Brendan Cook had a lousy run of luck at Phillip Island, but since then, he and former GT3 Cup Challenge champion Matt Kingsley have been the dominant team in the category, but with Porsche specialist (and opening round class winner) Michael Almond slated to join Foessel at Highlands, it will be ‘game on!’.

GT Sports (GT4 category cars)
The mighty Ginetta G50s have waged their own private war all season, and whilst Michael Hovey took the early points lead, rival Mark Griffith has rebounded strongly, winning the last three rounds to be nine points clear of Hovey heading to NZ. Employing the services of Jack Perkins hasn’t hurt his title aspirations either, although adding the V8 Supercar part-timer to his driver lineup ensures that he carries a big pit stop parity penalty. The race between the two will be well worth watching, and if either fail, Tony Martin is sitting in the wings in a position to pick up the pieces..

SCHEDULE (NZDT)

Friday, 8 November
Practice #1 - 9:30am (20-minutes)
Practice #2 - 11:35am (30-minutes)
Qualifying - 2:00pm (40-minutes)
Race #1 - 3:45pm (40-minutes)

Saturday, 9 November
Warm-up - 9:25am (20-minutes)
Race #2 - 12:20pm (40-minutes)

Sunday, 10 November
Highlands 101 (Qualifying) - 9:25am (40-minutes)
Highlands 101 (Race) - 1:25pm (101-laps)

AUSTRALIAN GT AND HIGHLANDS MOTORSPORT PARK

This is the maiden event for Tony Quinn’s Highlands Motorsport Park venue, so few drivers have had much chance to circulate the 4.80 kilometre circuit. Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli round two winner (Clipsal 500) Craig Baird however has turned laps at the venue’s official opening at Easter, setting the benchmark lap record at 1:41.90

WHERE TO WATCH

Keep track of round six of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli via the AGT website - www.australiangt.com.au and via Facebook; AustralianGT

The final round of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli will be televised on New Zealand’s Channel 3, and aired in Australia at a later date (check local guides and AGT website and Facebook for confirmation).

Pre-purchase your entry tickets for the Highlands Motorsport Park ‘101’ event by visiting the venue online; www.highlands.co.nz

WHO’S ENTERED FOR ROUND SIX?

GT CHAMPIONSHIP CLASS
1. Klark Quinn/Fabian Coulthard (VIP Petfoods Porsche GT3-R)
2. Andrew Taplin/Dean Canto (Taplin Real Estate Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
6. Rod Salmon/Liam Talbot (Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 LMS ultra)
7. Tony Quinn/tba (Darrell Lea Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
29. Jim Manolios/Greg Murphy (Chevrolet Corvette Z06.R GT3)
48. Justin McMillan/Dale Wood (GB Galvanizing Gallardo LP600+)
51. Andrew McPherson/Ben Porter (IMAK Int. Porsche 997 Cup-S)
71. Dean Koutsoumidis/Andrew McInnes (Equity-One Audi R8 LMS GT3)
88. Peter Edwards/John Bowe (Il Bello Rosso Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
101. Craig Baird/Neil Crompton (Highlands Park McLaren MP4-12C)
##. Grant Aitken/tba (Highlands Park Aston Martin DBRS9)

GT CHALLENGE CLASS
3. Ben Foessel/Michael Almond (Motor School Porsche Type 996 GT3 Cup)
23. Indiran Padayachee/Aaron Zerefos (Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)
25. Brendan Cook/Matt Kingsley (Walz Group Porsche Type 997 GT3 Cup)

GT TROPHY CLASS
75. Steve McLaughlan/Greg Crick (JAMEC PEM Racing Dodge Viper GT3)
77. Jan Jinadasa (JJA Consulting Group Lamborghini Gallardo LP520)
##. tba/tba (Highlands Park Mosler MT900)

GT4 SPORTS CLASS
9. Tony Martin (TM Motorsports Ginetta G50 GT4)
19. Mark Griffith/Jack Perkins (Vawdrey Semi Trailers Ginetta G50 GT4)
73. Michael Hovey (HHH Racing Ginetta G50 GT4)

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2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli
Championship points (after five rounds of six)

GT Championship
1. Klark Quinn (540 points), 2. Tony Quinn (423), 3. Dean Koutsoumidis (276), 4. John Bowe (272), 5. Rod Salmon (262), 6. Greg Murphy (245), 6. Roger Lago (234), 7. Jack Le Brocq (220), 8. Justin McMillan (195), 9. Peter Edwards (190), 10. Andrew McInnes (154), 11. Liam Talbot (134), 12. Craig Baird (133), 13. Tim Macrow (122), 14. Jim Manolios (70), 15. Christian Klien (70), 16. Nathan Antunes (63), 17. Andrew Taplin (59), 18. Van Gisbergen/Kingsley (54), 19. Simonsen/Salo (50), 20. Steven Richards (46), 22. James Winslow (42), 23. Ivan Capelli (37), 24. Middleton/O’Young (30), 25. Ross Lilley (28), 26. Slade/Holdsworth/Hackett (26), 27. Mok Weng Sun/Griffin (25), 28. Lowndes/Luff (21), 29. Roloff/Schneider/Jaeger (19), 30. Russell/Kox (16)

GT Trophy
1. Steven McLaughlan (265 points), 2. Jan Jinadasa (150), 3. Graham Lusty (134), 4. Jordan Ormsby (102), 5. Kevin Weeks (58)

GT Challenge
1. Ben Foessel (488 points), 2. Brendan Cook (450), 3. George Foessel (391), 4. Matt Kingsley (346), 5. Michael Almond (110), 6. John Goodacre (91), 7. Modystach/Reid (87), 8. Keith/Kian Wong (61), 9. Brenton Griguol (39)

GT4 Sports
1. Mark Griffith (497 points), 2. Jack Perkins (490), 3. Michael Hovey (488), 4. Tony Martin (458), 5. Darren Berry (219), 6. Keith Kassulke (119), 7. Liam Talbot (100), 8. Darrell Dixon (77), 9. Lee Castle (71)

The 2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli is proudly supported by Pirelli, Darrell Lea and Z Motorsport Memorabilia.

2013 Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli - calendar
Rnd#1, 8-10 February - Bathurst 12-Hour, NSW
Rnd#2, 28 Feb - 3 March - Clipsal, Adelaide, SA
Rnd#3, 24-26 May - Phillip Island, Victoria
Rnd#4, 12-14 July - Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW
Rnd#5, 2-4 August - Queensland Raceway, Ipswich, QLD
Rnd#6, 8-10 November - Highland Motorsport Park, NZ