Young drivers are set to benefit from a $500,000 upgrade to Australia’s original dedicated private driver training facility on the Gold Coast.
The improvement program at the Norwell Motorplex is focused on resurfacing of the main 2.2-kilometre circuit but also includes work on the skidpad, off-road course, safety barriers and even a new sign at the entrance – midway between Brisbane and Surfers Paradise.
“We even bought a new mower,” joked Paul Morris, the former Bathurst 1000 winner who owns and operates the facility, talking to CarExpert.
It’s part of ongoing work at the facility, which was opened in 1990 in the middle of Queensland cane fields.
One of the newer courses at Norwell is for teens, but it also hosts the ‘First Gear’ program for Motorsport Australia that is open to teenagers as young as 13.
“We do our our Teen Defensive Driving Course every Saturday afternoon with cars supplied by Mazda. That’s 18 kids and three cars,” said Morris.
“The big thing with that now is to show them how the technology in the car works and how to be safe. It’s how to use the technology to avoid an accident. There is a big gap between the driving curriculum and technology in the car.”
Morris is emphatic about the need for Norwell, which has just celebrated the second anniversary of a Learner Drive Day in conjunction with the Queensland Police.
“You can’t teach people to drive without actually letting them to drive. It’s no different to swimming, where you’ve got to have a pool.
“There needs to be more facilities. Driver education is probably only 15 per cent of our business, but it is important and provides a community service.”
Although teenagers are one of the growing target groups at Norwell, the Motorplex also draws many of thousands of thrill seekers for its V8 Supercar driving experience and a growing number of corporate customers.
“Our biggest growth is in corporate events. It’s people in other industries looking for something different for their staff and clients.”
There is also more demand for the variety of tracks and courses.
“It’s been ongoing work. We’re gradually re-surfacing,” said Morris.
“It’s not all done at once, because I like to have different surfaces for training. I want different grips levels, because it teaches people to feel the track.”
The Morris family has been involved at Norwell from the start, when Terry Morris partnered with retired racing champion Frank Gardner on what was then called the Benson&Hedges BMW Performance Driving Centre. Since then it has been backed by Mercedes-Benz and Holden.
Now Paul Morris said there are ongoing upgrades as part of the biggest recent investment program at Norwell.
“We’ve always got work going on here. It’s such a big market, and it’s growing.”
“A lot of the work is for our corporate use. When we go to a vehicle manufacturer we’ve got to be able to show all the strengths of their vehicle.”
The last major resurfacing at the track was in 2007 but Morris said there has been a lot of recent focus on the off-road track.
“It’s 2.5 kilometres. It’s been upgraded as well.
“It’s a relatively small test section, but you can engage the differential locks, drive over rocks and sand, and through our water crossing.”
Then there is the automotive equivalent of the theme parks which are a major drawcard for the Gold Coast.
“The V8 Supercar Experience is always pretty popular. We’d put 80 people through that every Saturday. That hasn’t slowed up at all.
“The biggest thing is that people still want to drive the V8-powered Holdens and Fords. There is still a lot of passion for those cars.”