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The McLaren supercar should attract a lot of interest in the final round of the Australian GT championship at Cromwell. EXPAND
The McLaren supercar should attract a lot of interest in the final round of the Australian GT championship at Cromwell.
The popular Australian GT championship is leaving home soil for the first time and will soon be arriving at New Zealand's newest motor-racing complex, near Cromwell, next weekend.
The final round of the series is being hosted by Highlands Motorsport Park and included in the class field will be local racing hero Greg Murphy and former Ferrari Formula One driver Ivan Capelli.
The Italian is returning to the championship and will be rejoining Bathurst teammate Jim Manolios behind the wheel of the Trofeo Motorsport Corvette Z06.R.
In an interesting twist, it was Murphy who was originally pencilled in to race the Corvette, as he had done at Bathurst during the season-opening Bathurst 12-Hour, but a late change has seen Capelli back in the driver's seat for the final.
"Highlands was always going to be a big event and when a vacancy came up in the McLaren, we spoke to Greg and released him from the drive with us because of the history behind the McLaren marque," said Manolios.
"It's their 50th anniversary, and Greg is arguably New Zealand's favourite son, so it made sense, and I was keen to drive again with Ivan anyway - so it worked out for all of us in the end."
McLaren is sending an engineer, Andy Scott, from the United Kingdom to configure the Highlands McLaren to the latest MP4-12C GT3 configuration and provide technical support for the team throughout the weekend. The managing director of McLaren GT, the racecar-manufacturing arm of McLaren Group, Andrew Kirkaldy, is also attending the Highlands 101 to see the McLaren in action.
In more musical chairs, Craig Baird - who has just won his fifth Porsche Carrera Cup Australia crown and his 11th Porsche one-make-series title - was entered to drive with race commentator Neil Crompton in the McLaren. However, Baird will now pair up with current series point's leader Klark Quinn in the VIP Petfoods Porsche GT3R.
"I'm looking forward to the event as a whole," said Murphy. "Having driven on this stunning circuit during the opening celebrations in March this year, I hope the first race meeting at Highlands Park goes off with a bang.
"Obviously the McLaren is a beautiful piece of equipment and I watched Bairdo [Craig Baird] set the Highlands lap record in it in March. Neil and I are excited to drive the McLaren, with all the wonderful links of the McLaren name for New Zealand motor racing fans, in its Australasian GT debut.
"There certainly aren't many other cars like it."
Murphy and Crompton are also expected to pilot the McLaren supercar in the Highlands 101 feature race, joining the 42 fastest cars from any field to contest the weekend's race for 101 intensely competitive laps of the 4.1km circuit.
For Capelli, his return to the seat marks his second appearance in the Trofeo Corvette after starting the season alongside Murphy and Manolios at Bathurst.
"I'm looking forward to joining Jim in the Corvette again in New Zealand," said the former European Formula 3 and Formula 3000 driver.
"Bathurst was a tough event for us after the accident in qualifying, so it will be nice to have the chance to experience the car again at its best.
"I have seen the New Zealand circuit on the internet and it looks very technical, but the facility looks fantastic, so I'm very much looking forward to my first laps of the circuit."
The Manolios/Capelli combination will have their work cut out, with the duo contesting both the two 40-minute races scheduled for the final round of the GT championship, as well as the three-and-a-half hour Highlands 101 endurance race.
"We're ready," said Manolios.
"I visited the Highlands circuit just last week and, boy, is it technical. We'll be lucky to see sixth gear, and it will be interesting to see not just the 20 cars in Australian GT, but the 40 cars in the 101.
"It's going to be tight, but I think it will be one of the best race meetings of the year.
"The venue is beyond belief and a real credit to Tony [Quinn].
"I'm sure this event will end up being as iconic as the Bathurst 12-Hour and a regular on the annual GT calendar. I'm really looking forward to it."
- The New Zealand Herald