Wow, what a weekend for motorsport fans in Auckland. In theory I should have been anywhere BUT Auckland yet at this time of the year the need to produce five magazines in the time I might normally only need to come up with three conspired to keep me if not exactly tethered to, at least close enough to my work computer and its fast fibre internet connection so that if something went pear-shaped at the printers I could be there – in person if necessary – in less than half an hour.
Of course, I can operate remotely…IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) one of the greatest advances in technology made available to me since the mobile phone.
Sometimes however it is good to stay close to home though – and this weekend just passed was one of those times.
In theory of course I coulda, shoulda been anywhere but the Queen city.
The erstwhile MG Car Club Inc, for instance, was again hosting the opening round of the new season (2020/21) SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at the recently re-named (let’s see if I can get this right…) Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding – and as the long-standing publicist of the series I really should have been there – for at least one of the two days, anyway.
As it was I had already been forced to reluctantly accept the fact that because of the bloody mag deadlines tripping over themselves I was going to have to sit out this year’s Spring Drift Matsuri meeting at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park (which actually kicked off on Friday this year).
So, all I can say is thank goodness the two independently run but allied rally events being held in the greater Auckland area proved both so entertaining and easily accessible.
(Way) back in the day, for instance I remember driving silly distances and to silly places – many literally in the middle of nowhere – to catch fleeting glimpses of powerful sets of headlights cutting through the gloom of a pre-dawn sky then be forced to wait for hours for the road to be open again so we could be back home for a midday nap.
Even finding ‘the spot’ took ‘knowing’ someone in the local car club and/or a degree in cartography as spectators appeared to be tolerated but not much more.
Half a lifetime on all I can say is wow!
A quick Google search (of the words 2020 Rally of Auckland) led me direct to the Rally NZ website and from there I was offered everything I could possibly want to know about the two events.
As it turned out the stage I chose to go and watch – the first run through the infamous Riverhead Forest north west of Auckland – was he only one cancelled – for ‘safety reasons’ apparently – but even then there was a silver lining.
A quick trip down my local rat run got me to Kumeu and to my ‘local; showgrounds from where – as it turned out – the event was being run.
I arrived just in time to watch – fascinated – as the first 20 to 30 cars snapped, crackled and popped their way into the park, and stayed for at least another hour – before a quick check of the stage map I had printed out at home that morning – suggested that I might need to get a wriggle on if I wanted to watch all the key players run through the Riverhead stage this time.
This time I drove the Ute as far up the (nice smooth wide) access road as I was allowed to go, and walked the other – what? – 25 to 30 metres to where the three volunteer safety marshals were patrolling a strip of a yellow crowd control tape.
The next hour and a bit I again stood or sat enthralled as each driver attacked the heavily banked bowl-like corner differently.
I was initially surprised how straight, and seemingly slow Hayden Paddon looked, particularly when compared to Raana Horan in his Skoda Fabia F5 and crowd favourite Dylan Turner in his locally built Audi S1 AP4.
Yet when I checked – on the ChrisSport rally results website – Riverhead 2 was another Paddon benefit.
As it turned out, the Rally of Auckland was just the entrée; the main course in this smorgasbord of gravel road action would be offered up the next day at the Repco Battle of Jack’s Ridge on the other – East – side of town.
Kiwis respond well to truly epic events and mark my words, that is exactly what the Repco Battle of Jack’s Ridge is, epic in its vision, epic in its scale and epic in its execution.
The first one produced a truly epic result as well, the win going to ‘local-boy-made-good’ Shane Van Gisbergen after Shane beat Tauranga Ford Fiesta AP4 pilot Phil Campbell in the head-to-head final.
The 2020 Bathurst winner had been fast all day in his borrowed, locally-built and run Choice Motorsport Mitsubishi Mirage AP4 car, showcasing his phenomenal and adaptable talent behind the wheel of any car, before finally making the event his with a flat 1.20.00 in the final.
Campbell fought valiantly but couldn’t match Van Gisbergen in front of a capacity (and every ticket pre-sold) 5,000-strong crowd in the stunning Whitford location.
Earlier WRC star – and emphatic Saturday Rally of Auckland winner – Hayden Paddon had set the benchmark time only to clip a bank towards the end of his top 8 run which pitched his Hyundai AP4 into a roll and out of the event.
Paddon wasn’t hurt in the incident and graciously waved to fans that had come out to see him in action.
Event host Jack Hawkeswood was third, Matt Summerfield fourth.
So that was my weekend. While I managed to finally sign off one printer’s proof on my return home on Sunday afternoon from the Repco “Battle’ event I go into production of a second issue next Monday and a third just a fortnight after that.
Not that I was dwelling on either or both today
No, today was for appreciating what we have already and what we can have – with of bit of luck – in years to come.
While I loved watching ‘the guns’ like Hayden Paddon, SVG, Murph et al what I think impressed me the most was the sheer diversity of the entry, from Sloan Cox in his wild spaceframe Mitsubishi Evo Hillclimb special, to former Drift champ Carl Ruiterman in his Yamaha UTV, and Ian Ffitch from Amberley on his wild ATV.
Prior to the Repco Battle event it was hill climbs like the Silverstone Race to the Sky in the Cardrona Valley between Queenstown and Wanaka which attracted freethinkers like Ffitch and Ruiterman.
Now we not only have a Rally Sprint suitable for everyone from SVG down who loves racing on a loose surface, but the venue is literally just up the road from NZ’s biggest city.
In fact, I am getting goosebumps just thinking about the next one – though I’d imagine it is still another year away!