2024 NEW ZEALAND grand prix - guide

It's time for the first Grand Prix of the year. This weekend sees the 68th running of the New Zealand Grand Prix at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell. In this guide you can find out more about the history of the race, teams and drivers competing this year, as well as the schedule for the weekend and where you can watch the racing action live.


Following the transition from beach races, motor racing in New Zealand initially occurred on airfields and horse-racing circuits. The inaugural event took place in 1949 at Wigram airforce base near Christchurch, where a 3.4-kilometre circuit was arranged utilizing runways and connecting roads. The 1950s marked an exhilarating period for motor sports in New Zealand, coinciding with a surge in international motor racing activities, heralding the dawn of a golden era in single-seater racing competitions, famously known as Grand Prix. The first New Zealand Grand Prix occurred in 1950 at Ōhakea air base, with John McMillan clinching victory driving a modified car known as the Jackson special. By 1954, when overseas drivers were first admitted to the annual New Zealand Grand Prix, the event was held at the 3.2-kilometre Ardmore Airfield in Auckland. The winner achieved an average speed exceeding 116 kilometers per hour across 200 laps of the circuit. While the term "Grand Prix" may seem straightforward in its sporting significance, it's actually a prestigious designation bestowed by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) upon only the most significant events on the motorsport calendar. Interestingly, apart from Formula 1 events, only two other races bear the Grand Prix title: the New Zealand Grand Prix and the Macau Grand Prix.


Formula Libre & Tasman Series (1950 - 1975)


Until 1964, all major events adhered to Formula Libre regulations, characterized by unrestricted engine size, fuel type, car weight, and design. This inclusive formula garnered significant interest among the thousands of spectators and enthusiasts, as it allowed for a diverse array of vehicles to compete. Attendees had the opportunity to witness international cars and drivers pitted against specials, sports cars, older Formula One cars imported by New Zealand drivers, and even diminutive half-litre single-seaters like the Cooper Norton. By 1964, the Grand Prix had become New Zealand's premier international sporting event. Subsequently, it operated under Formula One regulations within the Tasman Series, imposing limitations on engine size and other technical specifications. Despite not being part of the official F1 championship, the New Zealand Grand Prix attracted several renowned Formula 1 stars. Winners during this early period included F1 world champions Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, and nearly champions such as Stirling Moss, Chris Amon, and Bruce McLaren.


Formula Pacific (1977 - 1991)


From 1977, the race was held as part of the Formula Pacific. In the first two years, the Finnish F1 world champion Keke Rosberg managed to win the New Zealand Grand Prix twice. Other former F1 drivers such as Teo Fabi and Roberto Moreno also won the prestigious race. The legendary Ken Smith also won his first two Grand Prix victories during this period. First in 1976, when the Grand Prix was briefly part of the Formula 5000, and then in 1990 at the end of the Formula Pacific era.


Formula Atlantic, Formula Ford and more (1992-2005)


During the 1990s and 2000s, the Grand Prix was contested by smaller regional or continental formula series such as Formula Atlantic, Formula Brabham, Formula Holden, or Formula Ford. Among the notable victors during this era were future international touring car luminaries Craig Baird, who claimed victory in the race three times, and Greg Murphy. Additionally, winners of the event included Supercars regular Fabian Coulthard and A1GP driver Jonny Reid. Ken Smith won his third and last NZ Grand Prix in 2004 at the age of 62 and 28 years after his first win.


Toyota Racing Series (2006 - 2021)


From 2006 to 2021, the race formed an integral part of the Toyota Racing Series, which has garnered global recognition for its scheduling during the Northern Hemisphere winter. This strategic timing has attracted numerous international drivers, particularly emerging talents, who utilize the championship as a platform for development during their traditional off-season, thereby reinstating a sense of prestige to the event. Regarded as a stepping stone to higher-level open-wheel classes like Formula 3 and beyond, the series has witnessed notable winners, including Mitch Evans in 2011, Lance Stroll in 2015, Lando Norris in 2016, Jehan Daruvala in 2017, Richard Verschoor in 2018, and Igor Fraga in 2020. Nick Cassidy's achievement of winning the race three consecutive times from 2012 to 2014 places him alongside the likes of Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Craig Baird, and Ken Smith as the record holder for the NZ Grand Prix. Because of travel constraints stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 competition saw participation exclusively from New Zealand drivers. Notable Supercars Championship regulars Shane van Gisbergen and Andre Heimgartner joined the lineup, alongside previous champions Greg Murphy and Ken Smith, who marked his 50th appearance in the New Zealand Grand Prix. Despite commencing from the pit lane due to a pre-race complication, van Gisbergen emerged victorious in the event.


Several current Formula 1 drivers, including Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Yuki Tsunoda, and Guanyu Zhou, have competed in the New Zealand series. Over 20 graduates of the Toyota Racing Series have gone on to either test or compete in Formula 1, with the most recent example being 2019 Grand Prix winner Liam Lawson, who contested five events for Scuderia AlphaTauri in 2023.


Formula Regional Oceania (2023 - now)


After the 2022 race had to be completely canceled due to Covid restrictions, the Toyota Racing Series was renamed to Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship, or CTFROC for short, for the 2023 season. Dutchman Laurens van Hoepen, who is competing in FIA Formula 3 this year, won last year's New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs ahead of Louis Foster and Callum Hedge, who both are going to race in Indy NXT this year.


Many drivers have contested all races in this year's championship so far and Roman Bilinski has emerged as the favorite for the championship title. He has seamlessly adapted to the Toyota FT-60 car and the unique challenges of Kiwi tracks and clinched victory in six out of the 12 races completed thus far. However, his lead in the standings doesn't guarantee him the title yet. Holding a narrow 56-point advantage over his M2 Competition teammate Liam Sceats, Bilinski is acutely aware of the latter's recent triumph in the Lady Wigram Trophy race, indicating Sceats' resurgence. 


The upcoming Grand Prix, the first ever at Highlands Motorsport Park, has attracted several noteworthy wildcard entries, adding intrigue to the competition in Cromwell as well. Jacob Abel, a promising driver in US single-seater racing currently excelling in INDY NXT, demonstrated immediate competitiveness in his 2024 debut at round four in Christchurch. With prior experience at Highlands in 2023, where he secured third place overall in the championship, Abel poses a significant threat to Bilinski, Sceats, and the other frontrunners. Another notable contender is Bryce Aron, a highly regarded US racer representing Andretti Global, competing in the last two rounds. Despite showing impressive pace in his initial weekend, Aron lacked sufficient track time compared to his rivals. 


Ryder Quinn, a standout performer from the previous championship season and a CTFROC debutant in 2023, also carries significance, particularly at Highlands, owned by his grandfather Tony Quinn. However, the most dangerous wildcard is likely to be Callum Hedge. Since finishing runner-up last year, the young New Zealander has won both the Formula Regional Americas Championship and the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia. This year, he will make his debut in the Indy NXT series, where he will compete for HMD Motorsports.


Additionally, drivers like Kaleb Ngatoa, Patrick Woods-Toth, Michael Shin, Gerrard Xie, Alex Crosbie, Jett Bowling, and Titus Sherlock aim to make a statement this weekend, potentially altering the course of their respective seasons with standout performances in the FIA-sanctioned Grand Prix event.


The starting field is completed by Elliott Cleary, Sebastian Manson, Jake Bonilla, Landan Matriano Lim and Lucas Fecury.


Teams & Drivers


M2 Competition

4 / Roman Bilinski

16 / Michael Shin

23 / Liam Sceats

27 / Bryce Aron

39 / Gerrard Xie

101 / Ryder Quinn


mtec Motorsport

5 / Lucas Fecury

17 / Callum Hedge

19 / Elliott Cleary

51 / Jacob Abel


Kiwi Motorsport

14 / Patrick Woods-Toth

20 / Jake Bonilla

22 / Jett Bowling

31 / Titus Sherlock


Giles Motorsport

15 / Kaleb Ngatoa

41 / Alex Crosbie

69 / Sebastian Manson

739 / Landan Matriano Lim


The event has begun on Thursday with testing before the official practice session taking place on Friday. Qualifying and the first race take place on Saturday.


There is only one qualifying session this weekend to set the starting grids for Race 1 and the Grand Prix. It will follow a similar format to Formula 1. The qualifying session is divided into three sections. In the first 15 minutes of the session, all drivers race and their best times form the starting order for the first race. The positions of the bottom five drivers are their starting positions for the GP race as well.


In the second segment, the best 13 cars from the first qualifying session take to the track for ten minutes. The slowest five vehicles from this second segment occupy grid positions 9 to 13. The fastest eight vehicles then take to the track for the final segment and are timed for the first eight places on the New Zealand Grand Prix grid. As usual, the second race will start in reversed grid of the result of Race 1.


Friday, 16th February

10:15 / Practice 1

13:20 / Practice 2

16:20 / Practice 3


Saturday, 17th February

11:20 / Qualifying

16:05 / Race 1


Sunday, 18th February

11:20 / Race 2

15:45 / 68th NZ Grand Prix 


*local time New Zealand, -12h = CET, -13h = GMT, -18h = EST, -19h = CST, -4h = JST, -2h = AEST, -11h = SAST


If you want to watch qualifying and the race live, you can do so in New Zealand on Sky Sport. In Australia, the racing action will be available on Fox Sports. For those who want to watch the Grand Prix outside of Oceania, all sessions can be watched live or in replay on motorsport.tv. You can also follow live timing during practice at Speedhive.

written by Claudio Graf  / 15th February, 2024