Now that’s my kind of charity fund raiser!

Ever wondered why so many actors and musos used to turn up on Top Gear doing the ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ segment in the days when Clarkson and co were at their peak?

Many’s a time I did, for no better reason than the fact the few actors and musos I either know or run into as part of my day job as a working journo are all – to a man and woman – left-leaning, Labour-voting aesthetes (luvvies, I believe the term is) who would much prefer taking public transport than driving a car.

Contrast that with the UK where – if you were to believe what they told Jeremy C. as they waited nervously to find out whether they were ‘as quick as Tom Cruise’ or ‘as slow as Harry Enfield’ – the first thing every second thespian, comedian, or singer of popular songs did once they banked their first sizable pay cheque, appearance fee or album advance was splash out on a ‘nice motor.’

Closer to home, we do actually have the odd worker in what I suppose you could call the ‘creative’ industries who has made enough mullah to contemplate indulging themselves with ‘a nice car.’ However, the ones I can think of – movie ‘mogul’ Sir Peter Jackson, and actor Sam Neill – both have ‘other’ interests, Jackson old aeroplanes, Neill making wine, and neither comes across as a car ‘nut.’

Sports stars though? They are a different breed, as anyone in the car game will tell you. If you can kick a ball, hold a bat or stay upright in a boxing ring for at least a couple of rounds, there will be a flash car in your future quicker than you say the word ‘contra.’

I was prompted into these musings this week after witnessing first-hand, what I can only describe as one of the best exercises in ‘bridge-building’ between sporting codes I have seen (and that is in a career writing about sport which now spans 30 years and counting), the inaugural Scott McLaughlin Grand Prix at Hampton Downs.

On the face of it the GP was a typical charity shindig; in this case to raise funds for KartSport New Zealand’s Driver Development Academy coaching programme.

These sorts of gigs – where a bunch of coined up business types get to mix and mingle with high profile sports stars during the day then bid on memorabilia items in a charity auction over a sumptuous dinner at night – are, apparently, two-a-penny if you are into rugby, cricket or whatever. Most – by all accounts, however – are usually way less ambitious affairs, expecting those invited to do nothing more strenuous than bashing a golf ball up and down a green.

The big difference with the Scott McLaughlin GP was that everyone not only got to drive karts and cars, they got to drive a race-ready Rotax Max kart through a slalom course and a mouth-watering line-up of pukka Supercars like an Audi R8, Jaguar F-Type, Lamborghini Huracan, Porsche 911, and McLaren 570 round Hampton Downs – at speed!.

To say the day was a success is an understatement. Like a lot of good ideas, however, it’s actually hard to pin down when and where this one actually started.

The key figure in it all, obviously, is Scott McLaughlin. A year or so ago Scott agreed to become KartSport New Zealand’s Patron, a role which in most other sporting organisations is largely ceremonial and usually goes to a senior type in recognition of a lifetime’s service to the club or code.

SMGP Scott McLaughlin Welcome Function 2018
SMGP Scott McLaughlin Welcome Function 2018

Having started his career in karts here, then returning from Australia to contest the local Rotax Max Challenge (and in doing so earning himself a trip to the annual Grand Final that year in Italy), Scott is obviously well aware of the pivotal role a good, solid start in karts can play in any young driver’s burgeoning professional career.

As it turned out Scott had actually been mulling over the idea of some sort of charity event – or activity – to lend his increasingly high profile to. So, when KartSport New Zealand president Graeme Moore met sports management specialist Nick Rowland at a function and – after swapped notes about what each did and why – it didn’t take long for the idea of ‘some sort of thing with our Patron Scott McLaughlin’ was take shape.

What that idea soon morphed into was a kind of circuit-based kart and car-based ‘get-together’ which – when Scott said he was ‘in’ – quickly turned into the ‘Scott McLaughlin Grand Prix,’ to be held on the Monday and Tuesday after the ITM SuperSprint meeting at Pukekohe.

Why then? For all sorts of reasons, and, because it was planned months in advance, the way the racing panned out for Scott on the Sunday was purely coincidental.

Miraculously, for instance, the key venues – Hampton Downs and Boom Rock Kawakawa Bay – were available. As were a bunch of exotic (think Jaguar, Porsche, Lamborghini etc etc) demonstrators courtesy the many and varied distributor and dealerships under major event backer the Giltrap Group’s large, colourful umbrella.

Considering how busy they usually are it was also a minor miracle that Tim Martin and his fellow driver trainers from the Downforce Auto Events and Training NZ team were available. As it was that kart wrangler extraordinaire, Daniel Bray, was actually in the country and had time to put together a couple of Rotax-engined GP Karts and run the slalom.

Finally, the man known across the Tasman as ‘the voice of Aussie Supercars,’ Greg Rust (now happily resettled on this side of the ditch with his Kiwi-born wife and young family) agreed straight away to be the event’s MC.

Looking back at the inaugural Scott McLaughlin Grand Prix from a vantage point of a couple of weeks it seems like the most natural thing in the world to let a bunch of business types and sportspeople loose in a squadron of exotic Audis, Porsches, Lambos, even a McLaren 570. Imagine if it was you who was responsible for them, however, and therefore you who took the call from Graeme Moore…

Having recently signed on as a promotional partner with KartSport New Zealand the Giltrap Group was aware that – at some point – they might be called on to provide the occasional ‘cool’ car as a prop for an event. But pretty much every exotic demonstrator on its current fleet? Because that is exactly what Richard Giltrap and Shaun Summerfield provided!

All the way along, though, everything seemed to fall into place, as it did – so impressively – on the day.

With a contacts book bulging with the tel/txt numbers and Facebook PMs of an absolutely mind-boggling number and array of elite NZ sportsmen and women Nick Rowlands soon had a list of, er, A-listers literally banging down his door to get an invite.

Included in the final wash up was ex-All Black Olo Brown, ex-Warrior and Kiwis rugby league player Awen Guttenbiel, winning Americas Cup Emirates Team NZ skipper Peter Burling, Speedway ace Michael Pickens, Commonwealth Games-winning gold medal Black Stick hockey player Rosie Keddell, former World MX2 class motocross champion Ben Townley, Olympic track cycling medallist and Emirates Team NZ ‘cyclor’ Simon Van Velthoven, and Golf Caddy to the stars, Steve Williams.

Sportspeople being sportspeople there was definitely a competitive element to it, with all the various ‘challenges’ (gymkhana-style sessions on dry tarmac and a wet skid pad, side-by-side drag racing, through-the-cones slaloms in a kart and a car) timed and scored, with victory eventually going to the BMC team captained by a (very happy) Olo Brown.

As a journo I’m used to seeing sports stars (and in much the same way, big-time businessmen and women) put on their game face, obviously when they are competing, but also when they talk to the media. For some this is obviously a coping mechanism but all too often it gives your average, everyday fan, the completely wrong impression, of the person and by extension the sport he or she plays or is passionate about.

What I saw during a day, however, was the complete opposite.

Away from the stress and strain of training for, competing in and talking to the media about their chosen career or sport I saw an eclectic mix of focused, driven individuals lower their guards and mix and mingle like kids from different schools might do at a youth camp.

Each obviously brought a particular prowess at their chosen discipline, with all the associated bravado and swagger that comes with it, but when it came to karts, cars and driving round a track only Steve Williams had any relevant NZ Championship-level experience (In Speedway Saloons). So everyone – literally – was in the same boat.

It was also nice (or at least it was for me – to notice that no matter what their own level of achievement on the wold stage was, all were happy to accept Scott as one of their own, a sure sign of the place in the local sporting landscape the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship holds.

Now, all we need is an actor and/or muso or two, to join us next time round.

I’m thinking Tem ‘Jake the Muss’ Morrison would be up for the challenge. Shapeshifter vocalist P Diggs might be into it as well. When I interviewed him years ago his sole means of transport was a Ducati 916….There must be others as well. Perhaps you know someone with the right mix of public profile and private readiness to be inducted into the world of karts, exotic cars and sport. If you do let’s hear from you.

Because another Scott McLaughlin Grand Prix is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when!

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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