Built for speed

If you followed the international A1 Grand Prix racing in Taupo at the beginning of the year you will appreciate the advantage of the venue – one of the best motor racing facilities in Australasia.

Taupo_racetrack.jpgThe A1GP event confirmed the Taupo Motorsport Park as the country’s premier motorsport facility and an asset to New Zealand as a major sporting destination.

Before its upgrade, the Taupo Motorsport Park was a modest 1.3 kilometre loop track and small pit area for club sports.

The $12 million upgrade turned the racing venue into an international racetrack, test track facility, international drag strip, pit lane area and an associated business park. The Motorsport Park is managed by MIT Development, a company set up specifically to build and operate the facility.  Extended into adjacent farmland, the upgraded motorsport park fits so well into the local landscape that it’s hard to believe that it is so new.

The concept for the park was first prepared by motorsport enthusiasts Chris Abbott and Ian Maskell in 2002.  Construction started in August 2005 with Connell Wagner responsible for all civil works design, construction observation, safety design and resource and building consent approvals. The construction contract was awarded to Works Infrastructure.

The racetrack contract was separated into stages to minimise the works area and accommodate two inaugural races; an international drag racing event early in January 2006 and a round of the NZ championships (including the NZV8’s) in March 2006.

Without the big budgets and unlimited greenfield land areas associated with similar racetracks in Europe, innovative solutions were applied to bring the track up to international design and safety requirements. These standards included local Motorsport New Zealand standards and those of international organisations, such as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM). It is the only racetrack in New Zealand to achieve the FIA’s Grade 2 licensing requirements, and achieved on a significantly lower budget than other racetracks built around the world.

Features include multi-use configurations with the ability to race two tracks at the same time (maximising track hire) while still providing a specialist race configuration for exciting spectator racing.

The design of the multiple track interface areas, including tie-in to the old track, was complex and modeled in detail using computer road design software. This was the only way to meet the geometrical demands of each section of track. For example, the drag strip had to maintain constant grade and crossfall, making the sections of track that come off the drag strip complex to design. Jet cars can hit over 500 kilometres an hour on the drag strip, while cars racing in the opposite direction down the main straight can achieve 280km/hr.

Tight budgets were met through a structured design matrix that identified the various constraints of each design component and the corresponding costs.

Design also had to be flexible enough during construction to accommodate subtle track nuances and tolerances for exciting racing, which vary for every project. There’s no known standard or guideline for this challenge. Computer aided simulations of the track were used to impart a feel for driving characteristics of certain key areas of the track.

The fast-track approach to construction meant the designers and the contractor needed a lot of hands-on flexibility to provide for likely changes in the field to optimise the ‘driver feel’ for the track.

Other challenges involved a limit to available land, which had a deceptively large fall from one end to the other that made the project more complex. The preference was always to make use of the existing features of the site as much as possible.  At the existing track tie-in locations, for instance, lengths of existing pavement had to be milled and replaced. This old pavement material was then crushed for re-use as AP65 sub-base material.

On an environmental level, the well-draining pumice soil in the area, coupled with a very low water table, made the isolated site suitable for on-site wastewater treatment and disposal using an aerated wastewater treatment system. Relying on temporary ablution facilities for one-off special events that could host the full spectator capacity of 35,000 people, the system is designed for standard weekend type events with additional storage chambers for flow buffering.

Stormwater in the business park area is collected into a lined 500 cubic metre storage pond that also doubles as the firewater requirement for the site, greatly reducing the cost of the water reticulation upgrading. Stormwater from the track is not piped off site,

but disposed of through soakage holes around the track, which avoids the concentration of flows at the bottom of the catchment.

The net result of the motor park project is four race track configurations made up of; a 3.4 kilometre track

(incorporating sections of the old track); a 3.5 kilometre track (more technical and slower with a tight s-bend connecting the new and old tracks); a 2.2 kilometre track (the entirely new upgrade); a 1.3 kilometre track (modified old club circuit); and an internationally complying full length drag strip with a 400 metre braking and emergency lengths.

On January 18-20, 2008, Kiwi driver Jonny Reid, with Black Beauty, will attempt to better his two podium finishes at the inaugural A1GP Taupo. But this unique nation versus nation series features equalised technology to create a level playing field and 21 countries block Reid’s path to double glory at home.

The first event of the New Year and the fifth of the 10 rounds that make up the series, Taupo will be crucial for New Zealand’s title hopes. Runners-up last season, A1 Team NZL are genuine contenders, and were top the points ladder for the first time ever after two epic wins at Brno in the Czech Republic in October.

The A1GP action is backed by the best in local motorsport, with New Zealand Championship points on the line in NZV8s, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Toyota Racing Series, Formula Fords, Mini Challenge and Production Racing.

Taupo Motorsport Park, viewed as one of the most picturesque motorsport venue in the world, will be even more of a head-turner in year two. A more exciting Paddock Area heads the list of venue enhancements and a track change is set to ramp up the thrills and spills on-track as more passing opportunities are provided.


Contractor Vol.31 No.11  December 07-January 2008
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