Kelly Racing V8 Supercar driver André Heimgartner is the latest racing ace to sign up for the 2021 New Zealand Grand Prix.
Competing against generations of great drivers with a chance to put his name on the trophy is a bucket list item ticked for the 25 year old.
André will compete in a field of racers that represents the best of the past, the present and the future of New Zealand motorsport. It's a field which will also include the iconic Ken Smith, GT racer Chris van der Drift as well as a host of up and coming young guns eager to beat the established stars.
The team at Hampton Downs have been working hard to secure the line-up for the Grand Prix, billed as the “Race of Champions” and are delighted to have several kiwi stars agree to be part of our first Grand Prix event, Hampton Downs Chief Operating Officer Josie Spillane explains.
“We are really excited to be welcoming André to the grid, along with recently announced Shane Van Gisbergen, Greg Murphy and Daniel Gaunt,” says Josie. “We’ve had since just November to work with the guys and their commitments to get them along for this milestone event for Kenny. We are delighted to have André on board and look forward to having him as part of our wider team for the weekend.
“Our only problem now is who to back as the favourite!”
Although best known for his V8 Supercar form, André is no stranger to single seaters.
"I have done quite a bit of Formula Ford in the earlier seasons of my career between 2009 and 2013," says André.
"I did several series including the South Island Formula Ford Championship and the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship and won a few. I did some Formula Ford in Australia around that time too but at that stage the question was really which direction I wanted my career to go in. For us we didn't have the money to go over to Europe and pursue single seater racing there.
"That meant I never did the TRS series back then because of that and because of the direction we chose.
“At the time I was pretty upset about that because growing up we had high level top tier motorsport in New Zealand,” says André. “The early years of TRS were part of that of course with some great names in New Zealand and international racing. Dan Gaunt, Earl Bamber, Mitch Evans and many more and I used to watch them and think it would be awesome to race them. But it wasn't to be and we headed over to Australia and obviously it has worked out well for me."
Caption: André Heimgartner testing Toyota’s FT60 at Hampton Downs. Photo: TGRNZ.
The desire to compete in New Zealand's premier single seater race - one of only two events outside of the Formula One World Championship to carry an official FIA 'Grand Prix' title - has remained with André, however.
"The prospect of racing in the New Zealand Grand Prix is very exciting for me though. It is something I've been wanting to do for a long time and it's definitely a bucket list item. I've obviously watched it many times and followed it since I was young, seeing the likes of Kenny Smith come back again and again. The car is very exciting. Modern, fast, challenging to drive. There's plenty of aero and it's very different to a V8 Supercar which has lots of power and not much grip. The single seater is lighter has more grip but less horsepower,” says André.
"The adjustment required from a driver for this transition will depend a lot on the driver themselves. I've driven plenty of cars apart from Supercars and many of them recently, including TCR cars, GT cars and even Toyota 86s.
“Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and I even did speedway for a while so jumping into a car with different characteristics is not something I consider a major issue for me. I have a good idea of what to expect and how to adjust,” says André.
"It’s going to be interesting and I'm not going to put any pressure on myself. These young kids, they're bloody fast. You only need to watch them race once to see that. I almost feel like an old guy at 25. It will be very interesting and drivers will go into it aiming to have fun. But of course when the gloves are on and we get into the cars, we only want to win."
The MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned Grand Prix – a joint venture by Hampton Downs and Speed Works Events - will run over the weekend of January 22 -24 with practice, qualifying and two races for drivers before the New Zealand Grand Prix itself on Sunday 24 over 28 laps of the circuit.
A legendary list of previous winners includes Stirling Moss, Prince Bira, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and legendary Kiwi racers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. More recently, it has been won by current F1 drivers Lando Norris and Lance Stroll. There's an impressive list of Kiwis on the winners roll of honour too, including three time winners Craig Baird and Nick Cassidy and Smith, as well as Bathurst and Supercar legend Greg Murphy.
It will be the first time the Grand Prix has been held at the North Waikato circuit and the first time any Castrol Toyota Racing Series event has been held on the longer and more challenging 4km international format track which has ten corners and a current lap record of 1 minute 27.637 seconds.
2021 Castrol Toyota Racing Series
Round 1: Hampton Downs – January 22 - 24 66th New Zealand Grand Prix
Round 2: Hampton Downs – January 29 – 30
Round 3: Manfeild – February 12 –14.