Redline Sprint RS
Darren Cottingham, punts Redline's 1950's-style Sprint around Pukekohe Park Raceway, the fastest track in the Southern Hemisphere.
The 1950’s was a time of camaraderie in motor racing, even at the highest level. Forgot your 5/8” spanner? Pop down to someone else’s pit and borrow one. Drivers were even accessible to the public, well, for as long as they stayed alive. And that was part of the problem: beautiful cars, horrendous safety. Enter the Redline Sprint. It captures the essence of the 50s and 60s, but with modern safety standards. If you could drift one around a sweeping right-hander in front of Moss, Fangio and Hawthorn, they’d have déjà vu by the Trilby-load.
West Auckland is the traditional home of the petrol head (even Bruce McLaren had a workshop there), and nestled amongst the vineyards and paddocks in the village of Waimauku, Kevin Hunt, owner of Redline Performance Cars, has been building cars for years, starting with dirt track cars. This previous experience means that in the four years since the first Redline Sprint was built, they’ve taken the modified 2-litre class, ACC Sportscar Championship and overall Clubman’s class a number of times. Kevin has only contested five of the ten rounds in his car this year and is lying second in the 2004 championship, with another Sprint leading.
It’s available as both a track-only race car (as tested) and in road-going trim (which is still pretty handy around the track). The track version is beefed up, with homologated roll bars (or full cage), twin master cylinders for the brakes, and more chassis bracing.
The first born son of Lola
I met Kevin and his Sprint RS down at Pukekohe [pron. Puh-keh-coe-ee] Park Raceway, along with another Sprint owner. Rolling it off the trailer you see it’s the first-born son of the Lola Mark 1 from the front and sides, and from the rear it’s the D-Type Jag’s less curvaceous cousin.
Each Sprint is built to a customer’s specific requirements, and detailing such as a the owner’s name being incorporated into the chassis plate, custom performance specifications, and custom cockpit layout, make the car special to its owner.
A base Sprint comes with the 2-litre 3SGE motor from the Toyota MR2. This is good for 170hp, but is easy to modify with cylinder head work and cams to give another 40hp. You can also bolt a turbocharger on if you’re absolutely insane. A multitude of other engine choices exist with one hairy-chested fellow requesting a 280hp Nissan Primera Touring Car engine and Quaife six-speed sequential gearbox, giving a 470hp/tonne power to weight ratio. Kevin’s car is what’s called the Sprint RS – a significant performance enhancement with a 230hp Toyota Altezza motor, independent rear and a swag of other modifications.
The Sprint is well known in the New Zealand motorsport scene, and having raced (and lost) against them before I was keen on being on the other end of the equation.
Getting in is not for those with a groin strain or a penchant for mini skirts. Step over the side of the car onto the seat (there are no doors, unless you specify them), then slide your legs under the flat-bottomed steering wheel. The seat seemed made for my 5’11” wiry frame and all controls were conveniently placed. The adjustable pedals are the perfect width and spacing, and there’s an acre of room in the foot well, making heel-toe operation easy. The Sabelts harness holds you firm. Start it up and the engine quickly settles into a menacing mid-range growl, while blipping the throttle makes the exhaust bark.
I snicked the Toyota gearbox into first, gave it not quite enough juice and stalled it. Second time lucky, and I trundled up the pit lane. Reaching the exit of the pit lane, a quick check to see the coast was clear and bury the pedal in first gear. Retinal distortion accompanied by a large grin on my face was only halted by having to brake for the esses. However, this wasn’t going to be a hot lap as exploring the mowed areas of the circuit wouldn’t have impressed Kevin. The independent rear end and limited slip diff makes accelerating out of corners a dream and the prodigious grip, even on cold tyres, is enough to make your neck realise there are muscles in there that aren’t used very often. By the end of the back straight a 140mph breeze pushes against your noggin, and it’s at this point you’re wishing you had an aerodynamic helmet.
Feel through the steering wheel is like a single seater – every crack in the tarmac is accounted for by the palms of your hands. The steering requires some commitment and shoulder strength to be accurate each time, but push it through the corners and your confidence grows as the Sprint RS stays flatter than a Lincolnshire potato field, never once feeling like it’s about to break away.
Gone in 66 seconds
After a few laps it was time to see what it could really do by giving it back to Kevin and experiencing it from the passenger seat. Pukekohe Park Raceway is located 45-minutes south of Auckland and is the fastest track in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s particularly hard on brakes and the front left tyre. Controlled testing days (where anyone with a helmet and overalls can drive pretty much anything) are NZ$80 (about UKP25).
Coming past the start finish line at around 120mph, set the car up on the mid-left of the track for the right-hand Jennian Homes sweeper, the apex of which is hidden by a fence and bank on the inside of the track. Lift off just before the corner, turn in then give it some gas all the way around. Hard on the anchors into the esses – a quick and tight left/right/right – make sure you brake in a straight line or the back wheels will be overtaking the bonnet. Change down a couple of cogs. Check for wannabes trying their luck down the inside and apex the slightly cambered Castrol Corner, a 90-degree right hander onto the 650m back straight. It’s a flat-out drag race now, engine screaming, wind buffeting your helmet. Straight-line the mild kink in the track as you run parallel with a railway line on your left and a horse racing track on your right, and head towards the hairpin.
Acceleration doesn’t fall away and 140mph comes up as you drop the anchors at about 90m. Clench your buttocks and hope you scrub off enough speed for the 170 degree right-hand hairpin. An overtaking opportunity exists here if you’re brave. 620bhp V8 Supercars reach 170mph here and brake down to 40mph. If you’re not driving defensively, take a wide line in with a late apex to get a good run over the Hill. Mental note: a friend of mine wrote his Porsche off here…with me in it, so I’m hoping Kevin’s careful on the exit as there’s not much room between the rumble strip and the Armco.
Foot to the floor out of the hairpin and move to the middle of the track. Change up, cut across the left hand kink, aiming for the observation tower, keep left, over the famed bumps (which unsettle the car) and you’re into ‘the Hill’, a blind-apex right-hander and a bugger of a corner in the wet. Keep it flat if you’re Zeus; lift slightly just before you turn if you’re a mortal. Then floor it. It’s easy to hit the apex too early resulting in you running out of track when you crest the hill. Take care not to let your outside wheels drift off the track as you once again head towards the start/finish line. Porsche GT3 Cup cars will lap the circuit in around 60 seconds. My de-catted Version 4 STI WRX did it in just under 1:13, seeing a 141mph maximum speed. The Redline Sprint does it in a very respectable 1:05.5 having the advantage of half the weight.
"It’s not about winning; it’s about winning in style"
So goes Redline’s byline, and I can quite believe it. Get the 170bhp version and you get an elegant and competitive track car which will put a grin above your chin. However, splash out a bit more for the 230hp version, and not only will you have a splendid piece of faux-nostalgia, you’ll have a Caterham-bashing tyre-fryer capable of some seriously quick lap times. And, if you’re into building cars yourself, Redline can provide a starter kit to which you can add your own custom components.
Words and images © 2004 Darren Cottingham