‘If you’re a golfer you join a Golf Club – we don’t like golf’
It was such a succinct analogy, summing up the Hampton Downs GT membership so perfectly that it could have come from the racetrack owner Tony Quinn himself (without the Scottish brogue or the hint of expletives of course). As the membership celebrates its first anniversary, I took a trip down to the virtually reinvented racetrack to find out more about the ‘Country Club of Motorsport.’
Upon arrival, I was immediately greeted with the sound of a V8 roar echoing off the apartments as it headed full noise up the home straight of the track. It’s a highly expressive and emotive soundtrack that never fails to get the hairs on the back of your neck to stand to attention and undoubtedly; typifies a racetrack attitude.
Hampton Downs is blatant about the GT Membership being a priority for them and as I walked along pit lane talking to the members, the feeling was apparently mutual. The ever expanding 100+ membership is a true mish-mash of characters, with backgrounds as varied as the cars they drive on the track. Their vocations surprised me, it wasn’t simply a bunch of rich toffs with nothing better to do. They are everyday people (like CEO’s, Engineers, Accountants, and Retirees) essentially looking to let off some steam. Although membership is ‘individual’ based (with a plus 1 option) very few there that day were alone. Friends, family combinations (Fathers/Sons, Husbands/Wifes) even teams. And cars, lots of them. Road cars, track cars, utes and road/track hybrids (no not the electric type – although I’m sure they’d be welcome) from the exotic and expensive to the simple and functional, all there to be ‘experienced’.
In truth, the makeup of the membership was a little head scratching until you start talking to the driver’s themselves. They all share a common theme, ‘the love of cars’ and ‘track time’ and you certainly get the latter with the membership.
The GT membership gives you a massive 80 track sessions per year (the equivalent of 5 days per month), five days a year on Highlands if you’re down there and free use of the pit garages too. The driver’s attitudes are as relaxed as the access to the track itself (and I’ve slipped in some of their quotes along the way). Membership days seem to just roll along, with them coming and going as they please and taking to the track when and for however long they choose. From complete novices to returning motorsport drivers, it’s a chance for drivers to ‘increase confidence’, ‘let loose’ and ‘really experience their vehicles’ as traveling at speeds of over 200kph, is ‘something you can’t do on the road’.
With the variety of cars (and experience) comes a variety of speeds but they are quick to point out that it’s seldom too busy out there and there is ‘great etiquette on the track’, ‘no idiots’.
It appears that there’s a lot of action off the track too. The camaraderie is rife, there is a sharing of minds and advice and sometimes even tools. At the end of the day, many of the members gather in the VIP lounge to share stories and tales ‘socialising with like-minded people’. There is an annual Gala day and dinner planned, with activities such as clay pigeon shooting, helicopters and dinner at the museum (unfortunately I couldn’t swing an invite) and there are semi-regular driving/social events to keep you entertained too.
The other thing everyone seems to agree on is the value. To have similar access to such world class facilities in the US would run up to ten times the investment here and ‘investment’ is very much how the GT membership is viewed. With so much seat time, ‘you learn how to handle vehicle power responsibly’ which makes you a ‘better driver on the road’ and although some are using the track time for race training, for most it’s a way to ‘indulge their motorsport interest without signing up to an event.’
It’s fair to say that I do have a soft spot for the Hampton Downs racetrack and the people that run it, but after speaking with GT members I now have a far better understanding of ‘why’ the club is already so popular. As with the facility itself, the GT Membership is constantly evolving and with the likes of driver training, VIP days/access, skid pan/slow control experiences and even family/youth learner days under consideration, the already impressive list of membership benefits will only continue increase (as will the interest in it). So maybe now is the time to grab your place at New Zealand’s very own ‘Hamptons’ Country Club.
‘The GT Membership is a great way to thrill and excite, socialise and bond – certainly not just for petrolheads’.
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