Now here’s a new/old motorsport event idea to stir the blood

Sadly, some of my best story/article/column ideas pop into my head – literally – in the middle of the night. I say sadly because more often than not, though by the time I have got back to sleep I have sorted most of the issues (even done basic costing) when I finally do wake up and start my next day’s work I will struggle to recall enough of the idea – or perhaps more importantly, the execution of it – to turn it from inspired ‘brain fart’ of 1-2.00 am into something worthy of your attention and 20 or so minutes of reading time here on Talk Motorsport.

Take last night (Sat April 17) and this morning (Sun April 18) by way of example. After coming home from Pukekohe Park Raceway (where I had gone to watch the D1NZ Kaspa Transmissions Pro-Am Drift Series contenders white knuckle their way through Turn 1!) early, I spent the latter part of the afternoon and early evening in my office at home catching up with how Shane Van Gisbergen’s quest to keep his record threatening consecutive run of Repco Supercars Championship wins alive was going on over in Tasmania.

Speaking of which I still miss the sheer comprehensive ‘wall-to-wall’ excellence of the Sky TV NZ coverage. However – and I suspect I am far from alone here – until Sky comes up with a better deal for ordinary, everyday working schmucks like me (who only want to pay for what they are interested in watching) then its Supercars’ own delayed ‘poverty pack’ free coverage via their YouTube channel for me!

So anyway, it should probably come as no surprise that my light-bulb moment in the middle of the night involved me writing my column this week about Shane.

The problem was that I had already written up a fairly comprehensive one about the bugger last month, and though I distinctly remember my sub conscious setting out chapter and verse of a very different one last night, by the time I had 1) fallen back into  a fitful sleep, 2) woken up, 3) grabbed a plateful of cereal before 4) heading out to the ‘Bike Park for two hours of good, hard ’cobweb blowing out’ riding and banter……………..well, let’s just say that the specifics proved a little harder to re-call.

In saying that when I sat down and pondered my options, I realised that I still had a few.

For instance, there would definitely be some mileage to be had in linking Shane’s commanding form right now to the announcement over the weekend that the Repco Supercars series was not only going to return to New Zealand before the end of the year (that’s COVID-19 and Trans-Tasman bubble-willing of course) but that the series round over the November 06-07 weekend will be held back at Pukekohe Park Raceway rather than Hampton Downs.

You might remember last year for instance that the long since cancelled ‘Anzac Weekend’ round of the 2020 series had to be run at Hampton Downs because some minor functionary at the Auckland Supercity’s whizz-bang ‘major events’ organising arm’ ATEED had not realised that there was a pesky bylaw in place at Pukekohe banning any unnecessary noise being made within the borough before midday on Anzac Day….

While most of us were actually quite keen to see (not to mention hear and feel) a field full of contemporary Supercars belting round the full international circuit at Hampton Downs, the last thing many of us wanted was for any decision to move the event there (even on a temporary basis) being made at the expense of the place universally known simply as ‘Pukekohe’ or (with two syllables, NEVER just the one) Puke!

2019 at Pukekohe

Everyone, you see, seems to have a story (or two or three etc etc) about Pukekohe, a place (because it indeed is way more than a simple ribbon of tarmac) where – literally – the ordinary becomes the extraordinary on a daily basis.

Like Shane I have a special fondness for what I think of as ‘the Murphy years’ where for at least three years on the trot, Greg Murphy would step up to the plate and deal out a beating to rivals like Mark Skaife, Russell Ingall et al in a car which once back on the other side of the Tasman nearly always seemed rather ordinary.

These days too, that fondness extends to more recent feats of daring-do (plus the odd-bit of mischief-making) by Shane Robert Van Gisbergen himself.

Who can forget for instance, the young man with enough time on his hands (not to mention spatial awareness) to comment on the fact that he could see his Dad, ‘Cheese’ on one of the big screen TVs mounted around the circuit – all while counting down he laps to victory at near as dammit to lap record pace.

Or, in more recent times the way he boxed on-the-day-arch rival Scott McLaughlin in when he lined up at the end of one of the races.

Fans of both drivers immediately took sides and I know I openly doubted at the time that he had done it on purpose. Now I am absolutely sure he did. It’s just that he underestimated the ‘mood of the crowd.’ Not to mention that of the media.

So anyway, that was one of the other subjects I could have built this week’s column around.

Instead, though I’d rather fly a flag for an all-new type of ‘made for TV’ event set up specifically to uncover the sort of unique talent Shane possesses and which – done right – could I believe anyway – spawn the same sort of local to international licensing success that the True Bliss-to-American Idol one did.

To get an idea of what I have in mind It’s probably best to think of it as – some sort of four-wheel version of – the Superbikers event created in the United States in the early 1980s (and which you can catch an example of from 1986 on YouTube here)

Like most ‘made for TV’ shows the Superbikers one really only lasted as long as the TV Network was prepared to run with it as a means of attracting viewers (called ‘eyeballs’ in the industry) and with them advertisers.

What I’ve got in mind, however, could arguably be run at club level and ultimately unite Car, KartSport, Speedway and if they exist, UTV clubs.

Like most of our all our best elite drivers – and here I’m drawing a bow so long it goes back to the likes of George Smith and Ron Roycroft and forward to Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon as well as the Millen Brothers and Paul Radisich, Shane Van Gisbergen only graduated to racing on high grip tar seal after years – at an impressionable age as well – learning on low (and variable) grip loose surfaces.

It should come as no surprise at all, therefore, that young Linc Whiddett was wickedly quick on his off-road racing debut at the inaugural Mickey Thompson New Zealand Stadium Off-road Championships at Auckland’s new outdoor stadium track at Colin Dale Park near the airport AND is one of the quickest drivers (of any age) around the Hire Go Kart track at Hampton Downs.

Linc’s ‘old man’ Mad Mike Whiddett has obviously learned a thing or two himself about grip over the years and although he and young Linc built-up a 12A rotary-engined MX5 drifter as a Lockdown project last year, this year Linc has added racing motocross to his competition arsenal.

Not surprisingly then, its Linc who I’m taking my lead off in terms of what sort of vehicle I’d want to use for my made-for-TV ‘talent-spotting show,’ a 4-stroke motorcycle-engined Trophy Kart off-roader (Google Trophy Kart to check the US company’s offerings out!)

To see what an 11-year-old (he is now 13) Linc could do in a 450cc engined Trophy Kart off-roader you only have to check out this video….

Now imagine 12 to 15 of these going hammer and tongs on – say – grooved slicks on a hybrid seal/dirt track like that used in the Superbikers video at Carlsbad in California.

Done right it could kick start the career of our next Shane Van Gisbergen. Or it could simply provide motorsport fans across every discipline with something to talk about ‘around the water cooler’ the day after.

As always though this is just my opinion. And it could be right or wrong. What you think might be better, or worse. You’ll never know until you put it out there though, so get commenting and let’s keep the idea alive.

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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