Taupo International Motorsport Park has grown from a small club track that drew the attention of only local racers into a full international-standard circuit with some of the best facilities in New Zealand.
Home of the A1GP rounds during that series' short-lived life, Taupo has now settled into life as a major fixture on the national sporting calendar.
In 2021 the circuit was bought by businessman and racer Tony Quinn, who added to his portfolio of New Zealand and Australian circuits.
The circuit began life in 1959, when the Taupo Car Club carved out a short dirt track to the north-west of the town. Nestled in open countryside with the spectacular volcanic mountain of Mount Tauhara as a backdrop, the course was soon asphalted and became a bustling venue for the club's activities. Numerous national race meetings and clubsport events were held alongside Gymkhanas and sprints.
In 2005, plans were announced for a major expansion of the circuit thanks to private investment. The NZ$14 million project included a lengthened track complying with international standards designed by former F1 driver Chris Amon, a drag strip formed from the main straight as well as development of a motorsport-industry business park on an adjacent 11.8 hectare block of land owned by the local council.
Development began later that year and the new course was ready for operation in March 2006, christened by the national championships which included the popular NZV8 touring cars. A crowd of 16,000 turned out to watch the races over the two days of the event. The completed course featured a main 3.5km circuit which incorporated the original course at its northern end, with a new extension to the south housing the new pit and paddock area and re-sited start/finish line. Thanks to two link roads, the main course can be split into two separate circuits for corporate days and lower-level competitions. Innovations at the course included pre-case adjustable kerbing, the design of which allows the height to be adjusted to meet car and motorcycle regulations.
Originally homologated to FIA Grade 3 standards, an injection of NZ$2 million in government money to complete the pit lane, media facilities and corporate boxes and widen the portions using the original course at the end of 2006. A new sweeping Turn 9 was added to the full course, eliminating the switch-back curves of the former T9-T10, while the section in front of the club pits was straightened and widened. This allowed the course to be homologated to FIA Grade 2, allowing the track to pursue international races.
The A1GP Series soon committed to holding a race at the new venue in 2007. Temporary grandstand seating was added to accommodate the 30,000 expected spectators for what was the first international series to visit New Zealand since the 1990s and the World Superbike races at Manfeild. The event proved a huge success with Nico Hülkenberg winning both the sprint and feature races for Team Germany, though the expense of putting it on meant that the circuit owners were left with a NZ $3 million debt. A potential share offering to raise capital was mooted but finally pulled at the end of 2007 due to a lack of sufficient interest.
Nevertheless, there continued to be investment in facilities, with 2008 seeing modifications to the T14-15 chicane in order to improve overtaking; it was tightened and squared off, making it slower and harder on the brakes. It's debatable if it made much difference to the racing, with drivers still finding it difficult to pass on the twisty course. Not that the home crowd cared one bit during the sprint race, when Johnny Reid took Team New Zealand to a win. He couldn't repeat the victory in the feature race, after a bad start saw the Kiwi finish an eventual fourth. Team Germany won the feature race for the second year in a row, though this time with Christian Vietoris behind the wheel.
The 2009 event would prove the last A1GP race at Taupo. Series bosses had been tempted north to Hampton Downs for future years (though the eventual collapse of the series would mean that race would never actually materialise) thanks to its bigger population base. The final A1GP event saw Adam Carroll take the sprint race for Team Ireland, while Neel Jani won the feature race for Team Switzerland.
Following the loss of A1GP, Taupo has limited its ambitions to the national scene, with the NZV8 Touring Cars and V8 Super Tourers the season highlights, alongside a varied calendar of local races, testing, driver training and corporate days.
Following the loss of its international events, the circuit entered some financially difficult times, which saw the board of directors elect to put out a tender for its sale. Ultimately, three bids were rejected in July 2015, including one from Tony Quinn, owner of Highlands Park and Hampton Downs. Instead, the circuit elected to restructure its business from the ground up, with sales from the associated business park giving a more stable future.
In November 2015, the circuit was officially renamed Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, as a tribute to former Formula One driver and team owner Bruce McLaren. It came as the circuit bosses announced plans to invest in the track to maintain its FIA Grade 2 status.
Quinn however, remained interested in purchasing the track and by 2021 had made a further offer, which was initially supported by the board, until an intervention from the neighbouring Taupo Car Club caused it to be rejected. Persistence paid off, however, and a third offer of NZ $9.8 million from Quinn's Keltic Motorsport company was finally accepted in November 2021.
The change of ownership was formally completed in December 2022, with the new management's first act being the renaming of the track to Taupo International Motorsport Park. Under Quinn, a new membership model will be employed, similar to his other circuits, with a focus on motorsport, tourism and community facilities. The circuit is set to host at least two hallmark events, one being the existing Taupō Historic Grand Prix and the other a motorcycle festival. The return of international events is also a possibility.