Yes, well, as far as I am concerned, the less said about New Zealand and the role it played at the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games…. held at Rome’s Vallelunga circuit over the first weekend in November apparently, the better!
‘We’ – according to what I will describe charitably as a ‘hastily-worded’ press release from MotorSport NZ released the Wednesday before Games’ weekend – were being represented not – let’s see – by say ex Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley, recent WRC rally outright winner Haydon Paddon, or the likes of current works Jaguar Formula E ace Mitch Evans, fellow NZGP winner and current Japan single-seater and Super GT class main man Nick Cassidy, or even freshly crowned two-time Virgin Australia Supercars title holder Scott McLaughlin or equally talented former series champ Shane Van Gisbergen.
No, our two selected Olympians were Flynn Mullany, 17, from Auckland, and Faine Kahia, 23, from Taupo.
Yep, that was my response too.
OK, Kahia, I know a bit about through karting. But Mullany? I had to take the MotorSport NZ’s word for the fact that the bugger actually existed and had done some wheel time here.
To be fair on both parties (Mullany and MSNZ) the latter didn’t exactly guild the lily. In fact, if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard how ‘Team NZ’ went it probably had something to do with the fact that; and here let me quote MSNZ’s press release verbatim… “Mullany will make his ‘wings-and-slicks’ racing debut at the Games, having only competed in the NZ Formula First Championship prior to being selected!!!!!!!! (OK, those exclamation marks are mine!).
Not appearing to realise that ‘if you have already dug yourself into a hole, a good idea is to stop digging,’ MSNZ then doubled-down on the spade work.
“Aside from Formula First,” it continued, “Mullany has experience in 2K Cup and has undertaken a test in a Toyota FT-50 at Pukekohe Park earlier this month.”
Bottom line? The kid has done less actual driving than, than, than… (hell, even I have) yet not only does he ‘get the gig’ he’s written up as some kind of ‘New Zealand representative’ when he has no relevant experience….
See what I meant in the headline about something not sitting quite right, here?
To give him his due though he didn’t make quite as big a hash as he could have of the event itself.
Despite failing to make the qualifying cut (at 107 % of the pole time of 1.49.256 set by Pavel Bulantsev the cut was 1:56.524 and Mullane’s best was 9.268 seconds slower at 1:58.524) the hapless Kiwi teen was allowed to start both Formula 4 races and – to his credit – finished both.
In the 12-lap ‘qualifying race’ (won by the way by impressive young Israeli driver Ido Cohen who we will see compete in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series over the summer) he finished 16th and, to be fair, was not lapped by Cohen.
In the 14-lap Main Race, meanwhile, he ended up 15th, and again, was the last driver on the lead lap in a race won by Italian Andrew Rosso.
Though his experience is predominantly in single-seaters, Faine Kahia did alright in the TCR-based Touring Car Cup category too, where he drove an Audi A3 run by a Belgian team
He was 13th quickest out of a field of 20 in the first qualifying session, then fifth quickest in the second session, before crossing the finishing line in 6th place in the first race then having some sort of issue which saw him only complete 4 laps of the second and fail to finish.
Not quite the sort of results you can hang a ‘Kiwis fly at Vallelunga’ post event press release off, so the fact that when I went looking for a follow up and couldn’t find one suggests that even MotorSport NZ brass are embarrassed by the whole futile exercise.
Hell, I would be. For a couple of reasons.
One is Bruce McLaren. The other is our current generation of young karters.
To say that Bruce Leslie McLaren casts a long shadow over motorsport here is a bit of an understatement really. As a driver he earned an immediate seat at the table of F1 immortals with his first win, at just 22 years of age, in the United States Grand Prix in 1959. While as a manufacturer he got moved up the seating order by being one of only a handful to win a Grand Prix (the Belgian GP at Spa in 1968) in a car which bore his own name.
He was just as successful on the other side of the Atlantic, in the Can-Am sports car series, and died aged just 32, testing the then latest model, the M8D
Since then the company which still bears his name to this day has won the Indianapolis 500, the Formula 1 world championship multiple times and via a stand-alone division, fulfilled the Auckland-born second-generation driver’s dream of creating a road-going sportscar to rival the very best Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis etc.
We as Kiwis can hold our heads up high in any company, anywhere in the world because of Bruce McLaren.
And I don’t care what anyone says, you don’t f…k with a legacy like that by sending anything less than your current A team anywhere the words ‘motor racing’ and ‘New Zealand’ are mentioned in the same breath.
If anyone knows this, it is the current generation of ‘internationally competitive’ young Kiwi karters.
And I know this how? I know it because since the very first KartSport NZ Schools Championship before they are finally awarded their prizes the winners have to present projects on the life and racing legacy of Bruce Leslie McLaren to their peers at a special school assembly.
I’ve attended enough of these to realise the impact of Bruce’s achievements on the winning drivers and their audience alike. And anecdotally I know of at least one bright young karter who decided to pursue a career in engineering so he could get a job as a race engineer!
I might get all pedantic about some of the parents and supporters wrongly claiming ‘world champion’ status for a kid who has won his or her class at an engine manufacturer’ own global gathering.
But don’t get me wrong, in winning their classes at this year’s Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals meeting in Italy young Clay Osborne (125cc Rotax Max Junior) and Jay Urwin (Micro Max) proved that they are amongst the top karters competing in their classes in Rotax series around the world.
The same went for the likes of Jacob Douglas (who won the ‘B’ final, and Louis Sharp, who finished third in his) at the ROK Cup Superfinal meeting, also held in Italy this year.
In doing so they placed themselves in the very highest ranks of drivers their age in the world……
And I could go on….and on!
Instead I will finish here by drawing a line and suggesting that no matter how much pressure the FIA puts on MotorSport NZ, the local affiliate refuse point blank to have anything to do with this silly bloody sideshow that is the ‘Motorsport Games’ until it can put a decent ‘representative team’ together.
When I actually had a look at the website I realised – for a start – that there are multiple classes, including a GT Cup, Drifting Cup, some sort of weird kart hybrid called the Karting Slalom Cup, and yes, even a bloody GT Digital (I’m guessing on-line here) Cup.
So, by entering just the two drivers, we were – if you like – doomed to fail. Particularly when one, as I have already mentioned, the hapless Flynn Mullany, had less ‘wings-and-slicks’ experience heading to Vallelunga, than I have!
Rather than dwell on the negative, however, let’s end this col on a positive.
Imagine, if you will, you are Motorsport NZ’s ‘Digital God/Guru/Fella/Bloke you are tasked with putting together a proper team…..like the joker at Soccer NZ does when there is a World Cup qualifying match.
Let’s also say that you actually have a budget so that you don’t have to rely on those who can pay-their-own-way there….
So, let’s start with the GT class. Who better to shoulder-tap here than ‘former Le Mans 24 Hour winner’ Earl Bamber. These days Earl runs his own team so if he was too busy, he in turn could deputise his equally-talented younger ‘bro William.
If both were busy that weekend, I’m sure that other impressive young ‘Kiwi’ Jaxon Evans could step up.
The Touring Car Cup has just as rich a pickings, too, now that WRC event winner Haydon Paddon has announced his move to tarmac. Though the hugely under-rated Gene Rollinson, would I’m sure do an equally good job.
As one of the Kiwis with the most direct experience of racing a Formula 4 single-seater (as well, since, as a TRS FT-50 and both GP3 and F3 cars) I can think of no-one better to rep the old silver fern than Liam Lawson in that class. Equally, any front-running Kiwi with TRS and/or halo-equipped contemporary single-seater experience (a list which could include everyone from Mitch Evans, Marcus Armstrong, Brendon Leitch, US-born, Aussie-raised ‘Kiwi’ Hunter McElrea and even – yes – the Godfather of our sport, Ken Smith) would slot into the team just as well.
There’s just as many drifters who would have absolutely ‘smoked’ the Drift Cup field this year as well. In fact, one – Mad Mike Whiddett – was competing in another FIA initiative this last week, the third annual FIA Intercontinental Drifting Cup at the Tsukuba circuit north of Tokyo.
The sheer publicity Mike’s long-term links with sponsor Red Bull would bring to his involvement would make him an obvious choice. Though his good mate, and 4-time D1NZ champion Gaz Whiter, is now very much on the world drifting ‘radar’ after his emphatic win in the first ‘overseas’ version of Mad Mike’s own signature Drift Shifters event in Liverpool in the UK at the beginning of the year.
The Karting Slalom Cup is a bit of an odd one out in that rather than racing round a kart track the Slalom Cup is for electrically powered ‘indoor’ karts running through a tight car-park course one at a time.
Complicating the issue is the fact that there is an age limit -14 to 16 years – and the format calls for teams to consist of one male and one female so I think I’d leave the choice of drivers there to KartSport NZ.
Which just leaves the Digital Cup (believe it or not), a competition for ‘gamers’ using the Gran Turismo Sport platform on PlayStation 4s.
In theory you could play the game remotely, but – I guess – to heighten the sense of expectation and occasion, the FIA set everyone up in a hall with a huge screen hanging from the ceiling for the gamers to focus on.
Speaking strictly personally here, I’m more of a Sega Rally man myself, but I also know that the likes of Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonny Reid are avid gamers so that’s who I’d be looking at to complete my dream team!
But, again, this is only my opinion. You are welcome to vehemently agree or passionately disagree with me. I think MotorSport NZ made a major cock up by sending a couple of young blokes with little relevant experience to the Games this year and I’ll be well pissed off if any of the money I spend paying for my comp licence etc was spent on getting Faine and Flynn to and from Italy for the event.
That said, I believe the event has some sort of merit. What sort, I can’t honestly say, bar the fact that, done right, with a team (a la the Giltrap Group-funded A1GP outfit) doing the leg work I think we could not only do well, but actually win the bloody thing.
And if we could do that the embarrassment of this year’s Faine ‘n Flynn effort would quickly be forgotten!