The group operating the three Tony Quinn-owned motor racing circuits in New Zealand has appointed the first female pro driver to their line-up of hot lap drivers and driving instructors.
Former multiple kart racing championship winner, recently turned GT4 race car driver Rianna O’Meara-Hunt will be driving for Hamptons, Highlands and Taupo Motorsport Parks when she’s not racing in the United States.
Her appointment comes on top of a whirlwind 12 months that has seen the 21-year-old from near Wellington switch from competitive karting to car racing after she won the ‘Heart of Racing’ driver academy. That provided her with a season of racing in the one-make Toyota 86 championship.
“The move to cars was a pretty quick turnaround and it was a bit harder than I thought at first,” said O’Meara-Hunt, “but by the end of last year I got on top of it.”
That led her to America for an international shoot-out competition for a seat in an all-female race team to contest the 2023 SRO GT4 championship.
O’Meara-Hunt was chosen alongside American Hannah Grisham, 23, who brings over 400 races in cars to the #26 ‘Heart of Racing’ Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
O’Meara-Hunt made her pro drive debut for the team at Highlands where she gets behind the wheel of their Ferrari hot lap car, the Highlands Taxi and offers instruction from the passenger seat in the U Drive Ford Mustang muscle car or the Radical sports car.
“In the U Drive cars I’m kind of helping them go faster and push beyond what they think they can do,” says O’Meara-Hunt, who hopes that being in the Pro driver line-up may encourage more women to take part in the Highlands experiences.
“Maybe some women will see another doing it and it’ll give them confidence to do it. I had a female customer today for hot laps and she really enjoyed it, and it was cool to be in the car with another female because it doesn’t happen too often.”
Between tripping to America to race in the SRO GT4 championship O’Meara-Hunt sees the track time she gets as a pro driver as an advantage for her racing.
“Still being in a car when I’m not actually able to race is important. It kind of lets you hone in on your driving skills while you’re doing these hot laps, even though it’s at a slower pace it still means you have to get the key points right.”
Highlands is no newcomer to leading from the front and attracting world-class talent to their destination venue in central Otago, and CEO Josie Spillane says O’Meara-Hunt’s appointment comes at a milestone time.
“We are delighted to be welcoming Rianna to the group. She’s incredibly talented, a hard worker and really passionate with the special x-factor we are always looking for in our team,” said Spillane.
“She’s certainly earnt her seat so to speak and we are really proud that we have our first female pro driver – I’ve no doubt Rianna is creating an inspirational pathway for our young drivers in New Zealand and will deliver memorable, edge of your seat experiences for our guests the length of New Zealand.”
O’Meara-Hunt heads to NOLA Motorsports Park in Arizona in a fortnight for the second round of the SRO GT4 championship.
The pair will be looking for a better round after they were forced to retire following a turn two incident at the season opener when Grisham was crashed into on the opening lap.
The second race the following day however went much better. O’Meara-Hunt started the car P12 in their class and got to around P10 before handing over to Grisham, who only got two laps under green racing conditions but managed to finish the car P7 in class overall.
Words and images: Supplied