eAHsBtqm Hot laps with SVG
Hot laps with SVG
Hot laps with SVG

Norwell a launch pad for cars and books

Cars: Various

Circuit: Norwell Motorplex, Queensland (2.1km)


With its seven, mostly tight, turns and just 2.1km to a lap, the Norwell Motorplex circuit lacks the warp speed-like iconic Mt Panorama or Phillip Island.

But from where I sit, inside one of Red Bull Racing Australia’s all-conquering Holden Commodore VF supercars normally driven by seven-times champion Jamie Whincup – it has my full attention. 

We brake for one of the 2nd gear corners with such force that the sunglasses threaten to slide off my nose.

Then it’s turn in and with some 460kW at the rear wheels courtesy of its roaring 5.0-litre V8, the Commodore monsters the ripple strip on exit and launches towards the next bend.

But, relax, we’re in good hands, which means, not mine – but those of the subliminally-gifted Shane van Gisbergen. 

At that the time, 2016, the expat Kiwi was the proverbial man of the moment in motor sport, winning not just his first Virgin Australian Supercars Championship, Pirtek Enduro Cup and Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, but also the prestigious Blancpain GT Series in Europe.

Little wonder he was named by the UK Autosport magazine among its Top 50 racing drivers in the world in 2016.

The occasion was yet another vivid, colourful experience I’ve enjoyed at the Norwell Motorplex, what I consider to be Australia’s leading multi-use motor venue.

Located among the cane fields, off the M1 between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the $8 million amenity opened in 1990.

In its time, Norwell has been variously branded as the Mercedes-Benz, Holden and Performance driving centres, educating and entertaining drivers of all levels in equal measure. 

Multi-faceted it is, indeed. As well as the earlier-mentioned short, sharp and technical handling track, there’s a motorkhana layout, four-wheel-drive course and on a purpose-built, polished-concrete skid pan complete with the only mechanical turntable (designed to simulate oversteer) in the Southern Hemisphere.

Its accommodating versatility is what drew me to Norwell on so many occasions.

In 2008, I had the pleasure of sitting opposite the legendary Frank Gardner over coffee and an impressive charcuterie platter while he recounted key aspects of his hugely-diverse and successful racing career.

As the late Alec Mildren’s international driver from the mid-late 60s, his was an invaluable contribution to the latter’s biography I was writing. 

A few months later, where else but Norwell to launch the completed tome, Driven to Succeed?

It proved quite an occasion. Frank performed M.C. duties, fellow Mildren champion drivers Kevin Bartlett and John French were there along with CAMS representatives and media.

Many of Alec’s colleagues and friends from his motor sport, motor industry, boating and big-game fishing days attended; along with his widow Marge and family.

Proceedings were conducted around one of Alec’s open-wheelers, the beautifully-presented Mildren-Cooper owned by Dick Willis, and his handsome 1960 Australian Grand Prix winner’s trophy.       

My first opportunity to drive Norwell came a couple of years later when Nick Leontsinis, one of the most enthusiastic drivers I’ve ever seen in a race car, invited me along to a Queensland Formula Vee Association come-and-try day.

State Member for Redlands John English kindly made available his Vee and, during the lunch break, I lapped Norwell’s 2.1km to my heart’s content.

Another great day. 

As was the chance to do a first-hand story on one of Australia’s earliest track drive experiences, V8 Super School, an enterprise of Marcos Ambrose – then the man to beat in V8 Supercars and soon to be NASCAR race winner – and the multi-versatile Paul Morris. 

Painted up in race team liveries that punters were used to seeing running around on TV, the various stripped-out Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons looked close to the real thing but (naturally) were built to delight, not fright.

Mods included roll cage, safety harness/seats, upgraded springs/shockies, bigger brakes, 18-inch wheels with competition rubber, aero kit and engine tweaks and loud exhaust that produced a decent 300/320kW.

Instructor Tristan Hughes was about to take a young V8 Supercars fan for some hot laps in the car of his choice, a Castrol Commodore a la Larry Perkins, so with me in an Ambrose signature Falcon, it seemed a good idea to stage a spot of ‘match racing’ for the youngster’s benefit.

On a track still partly damp from autumn showers, both cars were spinning the wheels in 2nd and 3rd and walking around under braking, which apparently thrilled the lad no-end.

And entertained us older blokes, too.

Simply put, Norwell has all the basic ingredients – bar undulation – you need to have a good, safe fang in a fast car.

With a premium on handling and braking, rather than bulk mumbo, you are constantly working at the wheel. As you should be.


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