Subaru driver Alister McRae came tantalisingly close to claiming the King of the Mountain title at the Leadfoot Festival in the Coromandel today, and shared the honours for the weekend’s fastest time with the 1.6km driveway’s owner Rod Millen.
Unfortunately, in their final attempt, neither driver could match their last qualifying run time, which saw McRae’s 1998 Vantage Motorsport Subaru and Millen’s 1994 Toyota Pikes Peak Hillclimb Celica record exactly the same time (48.96secs) before the Top Ten Shootout.
The victory for the 2016 Leadfoot Festival went to Rod’s son Rhys Millen in his Global Rallycross Hyundai Veloster Turbo when he beat home McRae with a time of 49.31secs in the Top 10 Shootout. The Scottish rally star was a close second in 49.62secs, with Rotorua’s Sloan Cox third in his 2004 Hillclimb Special Evo 8 (50.87secs).
McRae wanted to better his qualifying time in the final run and put everything on the line, making a slight gear change error, on his way up the driveway.
“I did get beaten by a Millen but it was the wrong one,” McRae joked about expecting Rod to be his main rival for the Leadfoot Festival title.
Rhys was thrilled to finally topple his previously unbeaten father off the King of the Mountain podium. He saved his “sticky tyres” for his final tilt at the hillclimb, which is what he believed gave him the winning edge.
New Zealand’s Ben Hunt made the Top Ten Shootout and had an impressive final outing, clocking his fastest time of the weekend – 52.35secs – in a 1999 Subaru WRX STi Coupe. While he is overseeing the build of his new Subaru WRX STi NR4 for the 2016 New Zealand Rally Championship season, Hunt appreciated the chance to compete in the 700hp Subaru Coupe.
“It was a great result for the car’s owner Dan Kane from E & H Motors, who put a lot of time into getting the Subaru Coupe ready and also for my sponsors Subaru, Hydraulink, Motul and Gull. To be in the Top Ten with such world-class drivers is pretty awesome,” he says.
McRae only did two damp runs yesterday but as his confidence rose his times fell. After winding the boost up fully to extract all 780hp out of the Vantage Subaru, he first clocked 50.35secs in the morning.
Then in the early afternoon when more rubber had been laid on the driveway, he was able to lower that to a lightening-quick 48.96secs, equaling Millen’s time.
“The car is extremely quick, it’s a bit of a handful,” McRae says.
He laughed recalling how as a youngster, one of his legs would always start shaking after completing a rally stage. When he got to the top of the Leadfoot Festival driveway in the Vantage Motorsport Subaru, both of his legs were wobbling. The initially open section at the start still hosts a few bumps designed to catch unwary drivers out but it is when the cars head up into the windy, tree-lined upper section that the drivers’ courage is truly tested.
“When you get in the trees, you’ve got no room for error,” McRae says.
“It’s a short, short burst of adrenaline.”
Adding to the afternoon’s pressure for the Vantage Motorsport team was the mechanical challenge arising from the bracket breaking off the anti-roll bar in the final qualifying run. In a gentlemanly gesture to his rival, Rod Millen offered the use of his welder, as the mechanics worked frantically to make repairs before the final showdown.
Hunt had a lot of fun in the Subaru Coupe. After wet runs yesterday, he relished the extra traction today and the excuse to run the Subaru Coupe at full boost.
“It felt insane. It’s just that quick, you need to watch that you don’t hit the limiter,” Hunt says.