New Zealand (NZ) is extremely lucky when it comes to motorsports. For a country with just under five million residents, we are spoilt for choice. Recently, NZ has added another track to its directory of motorsport venues across this vast land. Although just an addition to a current track, it’s a new track nonetheless. It’s the freshly opened Club Circuit at Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park; located in the Waikato region of NZ, less than an hours drive from NZ’s biggest city.
Plans for this track to be made were put in place way back when the main track was built. Sadly, funds ran out and the Club Circuit sat as mud and overgrown weeds for years to come. With new owner Tony Quinn in control, Hampton Downs was about to get a massive overhaul, including the creation of the Club Circuit.
The Club Circuit consists of four corners, and attaches to the main circuit at corner two. Instead of turning into corner two, a massive straight has been created. A long right turn follows, then a sharp left, after which a long sweeping right appears, ending with another right handed back onto the main straight of the Club Circuit.
The pits for the Club Circuit also double as a new skidpan. The original polished one in the middle of the main track is now strictly run wet. The pits for the Club Circuit are now where the dry skidpan events will be held. I was hoping that the main straight would be similar to Meihan Sportsland where you can egg on the drivers by banging on the concrete barriers. Much to my sadness, protective fencing had been put up all over the barriers.
The day I attended was a private drift day consisting of about twenty to twenty-five cars, and run by Isaac Ferguson and Adrian Andrew from Team Private. Isaac also spent some time out on the track laying down some rubber. The day was mostly filled up with the typical Silvias, Skylines, Laurels, and Cefiros. Along with a crew of BMWs and a lone MX-5.
It was going to be a new experience for drivers today. Apart from another private day the previous weekend, this was new territory for most drivers. A new track was going to mean new challenges, finding the right lines, setting up the car correctly, and choosing how fast to enter. It all adds up to whether or not this new track will break you, or if you’ll conquer it.
The first corner looked to be the most difficult of the day. No rain, so the track was hot, meaning plenty of grip and predictable movements. There were two ways drivers were entering this corner. The first way, and the most dangerous seen here, is balls to the walls. Coming in on the right side of the track, turning into the wall on the left, then countering and flicking the rear all the way to the other side of the track, continuing to drift the right hand corner.
The second way, and probably the most popular and safest, was to come in on the left side of the track, turn into the right handed corner, then counter steer to drift though it. The first corner has a massive lead up, so choosing when to enter seemed to catch out a lot of the drivers. I think my favourite entry wasn’t the craziest of the day, but the most entertaining, done by Marcus Li in this BMW 328i. The car looked to be of a modest setup from the outside, but he was pushing it to the limits from what I could tell.
Since it was a low number track day, everyone was trying their luck with massive entries. Some pulled them off spectacularly, and some just wouldn’t be able to hold it. There aren’t many tracks where you can be this close to the action while drivers put it all on the line getting as close to the outside of the track as possible. Therefore it’s great we are able to drive on the Club Circuit now.
The day also consisted of a few D1NZ Pro and D1NZ Pro-Sport drivers. So tandem runs were in the mix. The likes of John O’Gorman seen here, and Kieran Stewart both current Pro-Sport drivers. D1NZ Pro driver Troy Jenkins also took a few laps in his Brian Roberts Towing RB30DET Nissan Silvia S15. Troy and his brother Ben who is also a current D1NZ Pro-Sport driver helped set up the track during the morning, and also helped out with questions any drivers had throughout the day.
Most of the action happens during the first corner, as the other two that can be drifted on are just a little too far away from the pits for my camera. Getting from the first corner and initiating into the second proved to be troublesome for some drivers. There was a long straightaway connecting the two together. Unless you had cut the inside of corner one, gone as wide as possible during exit, then switching, also going as wide as possible after the switch, you’d be manjing this straight. It required a lot of speed, commitment and skill to pull this off.
Since the track was rather wide, and the corners are nice and flowing, it gave good opportunity for tandem battles. It’s crazy what Kieran can do in his little naturally aspirated MX-5. Seen here he is right on the tail of Carl Nathan’s SR powered S14.
Much to drivers despise, big fuck off tyres had been placed on the inner clipping points on each corner to preserve the grass, acting as a barrier for drivers. On multiple occasions, the front of the car would nick the tyres, it would then catch on to the bumper and wedge itself between the road and the underbelly of the car.
As well as tyres calling home under cars bumpers, the gravel traps around the track caused big problems throughout the day. I’ve seen these at Manfield, and while they may stop the driver from going further off track, they also cause massive delays. This was no different at the Club Circuit, every time a driver would get stuck, a red flag went out and about five to ten minutes of drifting would be lost. Unavoidable, but a real nuisance.
We had a small break during the day, where organisers actually cooked hamburgers for the attendants. This is starting to become a trend in the northern part of NZ, to provide lunch to drivers and pit crews, and a trend that I am liking. It provides a time for people to mix and mingle. It also gives a chance for drivers to have a rest and fuel up for the next round of drifting. During a long day of drifting, fatigue in most situations will show itself, and the only way to disband it, is a good rest, and some hearty food.
I think I speak for everyone when I say the new Club Circuit is a success. Not only does it provide a great new track for drifting, it also provides an even bigger unpolished skidpan for people to learn on. The only problem I have is it’s not very photographer friendly, but as a photographer, it’s my job to work around that.
With new events popping up all over the show, make sure you head along to one at the Club Circuit at Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park. It’s great for spectating, as the whole track is visible from the pits.
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We also made a video blog of that day, you can watch that here.
Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable | Proofer: Chadd Davis
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