Race to the Sky

Subaru Rally Car


The last ever Race to the Sky was Sat 18 to Sun 19 April 2015 and damn do we miss it.

Race to the Sky was last held over the weekend of 18 and 19 April 2015. It was bought back to life after a 9 year hiatus by the team from Highlands Motorsport Park! But is sadly no more.

The Repco Race to the Sky was the longest gravel hillclimb in the world, following the sealing of the Pikes Peak hillclimb route. Competitors navigated the Cardrona Valley course that’s 14.5 km in length, includes 135 corners and climbs from 450 to 1500 metres above sea level. The return of the Race to the Sky, backed by Repco and presented by Highlands, was a legendary weekend of motorsport action!

Why we loved the race to the sky so much

Hillclimbs are both challenging to both man and machine. For the car, the challenge lies in the fact that as the altitude increases the oxygen gets thinner and combustion engines tend to lose power. The Race to the sky is a long climb and this is definitely a factor as you get further up the course. For the driver the the challenges are many. The there’s the added pressure that’s comes from being so damn high, with huge steep drops off the sides of the road a constant threat in the event of a mistake. Then there the simple challenge of remembering every corner and knowing the perfect line. The longer the course the harder this is to do. Then there’s the concentration factor. The longer the hillclimb course the longer the driver needs to remain in peak concentration without the leeway for any mistakes.

Pikes Peak was once the best hillclimb in the world, but after the road was paved that title belonged to Race to The Sky. A hillclimb on a sealed road just doesn’t have the same appeal. Cardrona really does have the best available road for a World Class Gravel Hillclimb. And it’s heartbreaking to see the race not able to continue to draw a field from around the world to compete and thrill spectators from New Zealand and around the world.

Race to the sky brought a true international field with drivers like Alister McRae and Monster Tajima, as well as the best local rally drivers. It is such a shame for anyone who love rally driving and in particular the hill climb discipline.

Over the weekend of 18-19 April 2105, more than 100 competitors in cars, motorcycles, quads and off-roaders competed for the prestigious title of the Repco Race to the Sky King of the Mountain Champion and their class victories!

Popular favourites – Monster Tajima in his Super 86 hillclimb special, Alister McRae in the Vantage Subaru WRC or Tony Quinn in his PACE Innovations Repco RTTS Extreme 4WD? What about Red Bull’s Chris Birch on his KTM, Ian Ffitch on his mighty Super Quad or Rocket Ron Kirkman, one of the few to have contested all ten earlier Race to the Sky events was back again for the Repco-backed edition even though though he was in his late 70s.

The best seat in the house was easy to find in the main spectator area on the edge of the Repco Race to the Sky event village, facing the famous Cardrona hillside and in full sight of the big screen placed on the start flats. From the southern end of the pits, spectators could also access the walkway which leads to the bridge and walking access for viewing from turn one. The walkway was well signposted and spectators were asked to follow the directions of safety marshals at all times. The walkway and turn one spectator point were not suitable for families with children in pushchairs.

Visitors enjoyed the festival atmosphere in the event village – as with every Highlands’ event, there was plenty to keep the whole family entertained including:

Wanaka songstress Jody Direen and her hugely popular pop-rock-country sound – on stage throughout the day.
Multiple champion motocross trials rider Jake Whitaker and his crew demonstrated their skills on specialised motorbikes over a cool obstacle course – on the start flats throughout the day
An impressive team of ten title-winning wood-choppers from Otago Southland demonstrated how to swing an axe using good balance and hand-eye coordination on the standing block – in the family area throughout the day
Lots of great kids’ entertainment was available– including climbing on the monstrous Spiderweb climbing structure, playing GIANT games – giant pickup sticks, giant dominos, giant Jenga and giant Connect 4 were all free to play in the family area beside the stage. For the littlies, there was face painting and a bouncy castle – always great fun!
Visitors cruised through the competitors’ pit area, talked with the drivers and riders, collected autographs and checked out the huge variety of awesome machines contesting the longest gravel hillclimb in the world
Those in need of refreshments, headed over to the array of food stalls serving hearty, warming meals or took a break in the public bar.

Directions to the course
From the Wanaka lakefront, follow the signs to Cardrona/Queenstown onto McDougall Street which continues onto Cardrona Valley Road. Around 22.5 km, look for the Repco Race to the Sky event venue.
From Queenstown, head nor-east toward Cromwell, but take the Crown Range Road toward Wanaka before the Kawerau Gorge. The Repco Race to the Sky event venue is approx. 27 km from the bottom of the Queenstown side of the Crown Range.

Tickets were available at the gate. An adult day ticket was $50 (for 16 years and over). Weekend pass was not at $80 was not available at the gate – these were pre-sales only.

The REPCO Race to the Sky was presented by Highlands

The wowsers won. The cancelation of this event will be a blow to tourism in the region. But there’s still plenty of fun stuff to do in the Queenstown/Wanaka area.

Hopefully Ben Nevis Station Golden 1200 Hillclimb will grow in stature and fill the void left by The Race to The Sky, or with luck someone will revive the race!

See more things to do in Queenstown, or learn more about Queenstown Hotels. After the race is done many competitors head to head to Maui on the way back to the USA.