Loving life in Cromwell fast lane

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A Queenstowner among the driving forces behind Cromwell’s international motorsport park has performed well at its first major race meeting.

Grant Aitken, the sole Queenstown competitor, competed in his Toyota 86 endurance car for five races in last weekend’s action-packed Highlands 101 – which attracted 27,000 fans through the gates during three days. 

Aitken, with Auckland co-driver Mike Eady, won two races and two classes – “and mainly we finished”.

The pair also finished a respectable 18th out of 42 cars in the feature three-hour Highlands 101 endurance battle on Sunday.

Aitken, one of the motorsport park’s original directors, made a seminal phone call a few years ago before the park existed to Australian-based Australian petfood multi-millionaire Tony Quinn, asking him to pump money into a newly-consented facility. It proved pivotal.

Quinn took over the whole deal and built the park – New Zealand’s most comprehensive motorsport facility – for a rumoured $20 million.

Aitken doesn’t want any credit: “It’s all very well us putting some of the paperwork in place but all credit to Tony – he’s built a facility that’s way beyond our wildest expectations. I just feel like it’s been a meeting of the right people at the right time.” 

Aitken says driving on the race track was a stunning experience: “It’s been widely acclaimed as one of the best circuits in the world – it’s got a little bit of everything.”

Fittingly, Quinn and co-driver Fabian Coulthard – a V8 Supercars star – won Sunday’s 101-lap enduro race, which followed Australian GT Championship legs and a three-hour endure event on the Friday and Saturday.

Quinn was delighted with the work done by his small Highlands team to pull off the first major event: “The biggest worry was we knew we’d be judged from this first event, so it was important for Highlands to put on a good show.

“Everyone associated with the Australian GT Championship was blown away. Less than 10 per cent had been to Queenstown before and there’s not one of them who’s said they’re not coming back. They absolutely loved it and they haven’t even tried the wine yet.”

The meeting drew 5000 spectators on Friday, 11,000 on Saturday and 12,000 on Sunday.