They say it’s hard to get ‘cut through’ in a crowded market. Automotive brands do all sorts of crazy things to gain exposure but it’s even better to give people an experience they’ll remember. And that’s one of the reasons why Subaru NZ has partnered with Highlands Motorsport Park, with six Subaru WRXs now living permanently at the Cromwell circuit.
As we learned from speaking with Tony Quinn last month, race circuits make little money from actual racing events, so the WRX Experience is another activity for the team at Highlands to offer to the paying public. The venue might be a track at its heart but it operates on an 80:20 tourism: motorsport ratio, which is the total opposite of Hampton Downs. Highlands has been open for three years and has had 300,000 people through its doors. The new partnership with Subaru NZ adds the WRX Experience to their list of offerings.
We should probably make it clear from the outset that it’s not something you can just rock up to Highlands and take part in yourself. This activity is for ‘the group market of conference and incentive customers.’ So if you’re the boss and looking for something ‘to reward staff, host prospective clients, or celebrate a company milestone’ this could be something a bit different. And if you’re a worker drone, start nagging the boss now.
As Wal Dumper, Subaru NZ boss said, the WRX Experience is not really targeted at petrol heads but rather it’s “an opportunity to showcase the brand and have people experience it first hand.” As he says, it’s an opportunity for people to be able to drive the cars properly in a controlled environment, to appreciate the product and to experience the “invisible advantage of AWD, which can be a hard a message to get across.”
While we are a privileged bunch and have done many track-based activities, the WRX Experience does give you a reasonable stint behind the wheel in what we deemed to be the best performance car on the market when it launched in 2014. And best of all, most of that time is spent with the throttle pinned, and the tyres squealing while everyone involved is grinning. Even during the ABS demonstration – gas it hard all the way to the marker before ramming the anchors on and trying to weave around the cone obstacle – everyone is smiling, especially as you’re three up in the WRX, egging each other along. And it’s not just for the blokes, the ladies along for the day also thoroughly enjoying the whole experience. The timed slalom sets those with a competitive streak off, not that we cared of course. There are the talented track pros on hand to provide tips, techniques, and ultimately keep things sane. We paired up on the day with resident pro, Andrew Waite, who reckons he has done around 8000 laps of the Highlands circuit, and also Brendon Leitch, recently third
overall in the TRS championship. They issue the usual tips; keep it smooth, and keep your vision up, looking well ahead. And a tip from the eventual slalom winner; always turn the air con off, every half a horsepower counts, and when in the WRX, prod the Sport Sharp drive mode button to access the best engine response. And then always reset everything for the next unsuspecting sucker.
There are three packages ranging from a 30-min teaser of WRX action which is designed to be bundled with some of the other Highlands experiences, and then there’s a two-hour package with a few track action exercises followed by some actual lapping on one of the shorter circuits. Finally, there’s the ultimate experience; four hours of fun with five on-track events and the chance to lap the entire 4.1km circuit, finishing with a flying lap as you are chauffeured at high speed in the STI driven by one of the resident hot shoes.
That’s Andrew Waite, he’ll show you what to do when out on track. There’s now a fleet of six WRXs living at Highlands, two being of the STI variety.
The on-track outing is a great way to experience first hand the ability of the WRX, and as Subaru puts it, the invisible advantage of AWD.