‘Petrolheads Unite!’ The future of our pastime is under threat

Look, I don’t mean to scare any of you – particularly those with tender sensibilities – but the day is definitely coming when we are all going to have to park up our petrol and diesel-fuelled ‘daily drivers’ and ‘head out on the Highway, looking for adventure (or whatever heads our way)’ in a ‘clean, green, electric’ vehicle.

In the UK, for instance, plans are already in place to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel-fuelled cars, by 2030 (which is now just 9 years away) with NZ supposedly following suit just two years later.

Speaking strictly personally here my take on the whole fossil fuel-bad/electrical cars-good ‘thing’ is a total crock……but there you go, electric ‘cars,’ Utes, buses and yes eventually even aeroplanes are coming, like it or not.

The good news for those of us ‘into’ cars is that electric motors are a bit like rotary engines……albeit with way better fuel economy and next to no noise. They are small, have bugger-all parts and offer a performance potential that puts even a sophisticated ‘modern’ OHV V8 (think any of GM’s LS series) to shame. Sure, you have to lug a shed load of environmentally dodgy lithium-ion batteries around with you at the moment……but I am confident that within the next 10 years the need even to do this will be reduced.

One of the big questions, no one in government seems to want to answer at the moment, of course, is ‘what are we (as a nation) going to do with all the petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles (some of them, obviously, less than a year old on the ‘banned’ date (here) in 2032?’

Also, what are we all supposed to race, rally, drift and generally do our hooning around in?

The answer to that is I (nor it seems does anyone else, in government or any other quasi-judicial role within our sport) simply do not know! All I can do is delve into our sports’ history books and see how we as a nation handled the transition from – say – bicycle to motorcycle racing, or from running around in a sulky behind a horse (an activity that had been around as long as the Romans and the chariots they used to race) to strapping yourself into a Castrol TRS car for a hot lap around Hampton Downs.

The key takeouts here are that.

1/ Nothing happened overnight and that.
2/ Our sport has an amazingly broad as well as resilient base

It’s not as if we are facing this ‘dilemma of the ages’ alone – as individuals – either. There has already been a proliferation of ‘electric-only’ one-make series for on – and now I see – off-road vehicles. Some – like the Jaguar iPace eTrophy Formula E support series won by our very own Simon Evans (main picture) last year have manufacturer backing, while others – like the new Extreme E off-road series offers a basic sort of Dakar Rally buggy/large Side-by-Side vehicle into which manufacturers (or obviously very well-heeled privateers) can fit their own electric motor and/or powertrain.

Hayden Paddon has developed this Hyundai Kona EV rally car

Something which a talented young bloke like Hayden Paddon, would, I can imagine, be very keen on, given the ground-breaking work he has already done on and with his all-electric Hyundai Kona rally car project.

Also, since Audi pretty much perfected its diesel engine technology by racing a diesel-fuelled R10 TDi to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race three times on the trot from 2006 to 2008, the company then returned with its first diesel-powered hybrid, the R18 e-Tron for three more consecutive wins from 2012 to 2014.

Porsche then took over with a hybrid of its own, the 2 litre V4-petrol-powered 919, with wins from 2015 to 2017, and… Toyota completed the major manufacturer trifecta with its twin turbo 2.4 litre V6-powered TS50 hybrid for Le Mans 24 hour wins from 2018 through to 2020.

All three companies have been quick to develop all-electric production models using technology derived from their years contesting the Le Mans 24 Hour race – a good thing because it proves that competition does in fact improve the breed.

What it doesn’t do, however, is help the club competitor who will be left with a petrol-fuelled race car of – supposedly limited value.

Again though, history tells us that we will adapt.

Take Speedway – two, three, four wheels or more, it doesn’t really matter. Western Springs – for instance – started out as a venue for the (hugely popular at the time) bicycle racing with a banked velodrome where the stepped concrete ‘bleachers’ now are.

As society moved from self-to-petrol-fuelled propulsion bicycle owners fairly quickly traded their Humber, Rover and/or a number of locally built ‘safety bicycles’ (the ones with still look vaguely similar to what we use today) in for early, largely American-built single cylinder or V-twin ‘motor-bicycles.’

These in turn were pressed into service pretty much straight away for races round the various bicycle velodromes -like ‘the Springs’ – around the country, then, as physical size, engine power and speeds increased exponentially, to what in the ‘home’ of the fledgling sport, the USA, called flat track, but which here was referred to as ‘grass track.’

Grass track racing’s natural advantage was that, because every town and city had an A & P (short for Agricultural and Pastoral) showgrounds and/or either horse racing or trotting complexes complete with grandstands and white board-fenced ovals (usually quarter or half mile circumference) there were literally hundreds of potential venues around the country where ‘grass track’ racing could take place.

Kiwis being Kiwis the sport blossomed and even produced a ‘household name’, Percy ‘Cannonball’ Coleman, who raced successfully in the ‘States and went on to represent NZ at the Isle of Man TT.

It was also a Kiwi, Johnnie Hoskins who helped create what we know of as motorcycle speedway today. Hoskins was living in Maitland in New South Wales, across the Tasman at the time, and not only promoted the world’s first ever two-wheel speedway meeting (in December 1923) he also did so under lights with a field of riders ‘broadsiding’ around the oval course.

Such was the sheer popularity of this new, ‘death-defying’ attraction that Hoskins and a troupe of regular riders – literally – took the show on the road, to a brand new, purpose-built motorcycle speedway venue in Newcastle in 1924, then to Sydney in 1926, Perth in 1927 and ultimately to Great Britain in 1928.

I use Motorcycle Speedway as an example of how our sport can grow and adapt to changing circumstances in an organic and very practical kind of way. While here in NZ it has never really regained the place, it had in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs ruled the world – despite the best recent efforts of local entrepreneur Bill Buckley and World Series promotor IMG – it wouldn’t take much to add a very green tinge to the sport’s traditional Black & white colouring.

Swap the current gearless, methanol-fuelled 4-stroke engine with a suitable electric one and the spectacle would hardly change.

KartSport, I would imagine, would be the same. Indoor karting has already provided a generation of punters with first-hand experience of the advantages of an electric motor offering you 100% of its peak torque off idle, and though those of us not happy to lose the instant ‘snap’ of a typical 2 stroke kart engine will no doubt lament the move to electric-only competition, it will only take a generation before ‘the kids’ think of electric propulsion as second nature.

As for the rest of us I would imagine that a group of like-minded people will get together either before or after e-Day (the day the use of fossil fuels is supposedly outlawed) and create an organisation to lobby government and the sport’s governing body on behalf of the thousands – nay arguably the tens of thousands – of owners of fossil-fuel-fuelled ordinary road plus dedicated race, rally, and club cars.

In fact, when you think about it ‘our’ future could well be a lot of fun.

For a start, we are not, apparently, making the effort to go all-electric because the supplies of crude oil – and therefore refined fuels for our cars, trucks, buses etc is running out. Oh no, that old chestnut has been thoroughly discredited, most recently in an article produced by Penn State University which suggested, in fact, that ‘the world’ has used only 5 % of its ultimate oil reserves, and that that number was unlikely to rise as quickly as it might have in the past thanks to current governments-sponsored initiatives to wean their citizens off fossil-fuels and move them into electric vehicles.

So, in short, there is still going to be a shit-tonne of the very best of mineral (let alone vegetable-based) oil stocks around for specialist refiners to create even better blends of oils and purer, higher octane fuels…. which we will be able to buy and use for specific ‘Petrol Party’ type events.

The template I am using here is that of the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand which currently has around 8000 members and is widely considered ‘the’ authority on matters of ‘old’ cars in NZ.

Whether through a club like the VCCNZ or a full-time professional body like Motorsport NZ I’m sure that there will be more than enough of ‘us’ ‘petrolheads’ keen to join up and ‘make some noise’ in the interests of continuing to use and enjoy our petrol-fuelled competition cars.

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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  1. duncan

    Electric can be great fun AND cheap!!

    My “Dubious Device” cost about $8,000 all up and has about 500 hp under my pedal
    Shame about the driver