Winners and Losers

The New Zealand motorsport landscape has undergone some sweeping and unexpected changes over the last few months.

The TCR category arrived, and now may well have departed pending decisions to be taken this month. There are about eleven people with cars to fit this category now contemplating running them in enduro events

Targa NZ lifted its skirts and flounced away with a new (Australian) suitor, heralding an era of competition among sanctioning bodies through some barely explicable series of loopholes that sees it able to operate outside the strictures applied to regular circuit-based motor racing and of course rallying. The FIA’s sanctioning body for motorsport in New Zealand remains MotorSport New Zealand.

Now, with little warning, the Aussie V8s have told us we will see them – for the first time ever – on the world class (FIA F3) Hampton Downs circuit in the north Waikato. Cue a collective ‘whaaaaat?’ from motorsport fans, the echoes of which have yet to die away.

A decade ago, Tony Cochrane, Penny Hulse and Jennah Wootten stood on the finish line at Pukekohe and told us how Pukekohe was the ‘spiritual home’ of the V8s in this country and how wonderful it was going to be to have them back.

There would be ‘fan walks’ leading race fans down Manukau Road to the circuit a la Rugby World Cup; ‘activations’ (buskers and the like) along Manukau Road, a street parade, eating and drinking in the main street of Pukekohe and all sorts of promotions to encourage race fans to make the event bigger than Ben Hur. A dedicated train would disgorge race fans at the nearby Pukekohe Rail Station, thence to the track on foot or by coach.

The cost, $6.6 million dollars, would be borne jointly by Auckland Council and Central Government. It would include major re-sealing and upgrading work and the creation of a back straight chicane similar to the Chase at Bathurst, along with an event marketing spend managed by ATEED, the council’s semi-autonomous event organisation.

All of that happened for that first year; some of it stayed ‘live’ for year two but soon enough Council’s attention turned elsewhere. The biggest single sporting event in the New Zealand calendar was left to its own devices.

Speedworks’ recent investment in track upgrades at Pukekohe must at least partly have been on the basis of having the V8s at that circuit. So they are surely due some compensation for that loss of revenue; likewise the (horse) racing club. Also out of pocket are the local caterers, who have rights to supply the lounges used by corporates.

Hampton Downs has its own lounges, but they are serviced by different caterers – companies which I believe hail from Hamilton.

Accommodation? Those who have booked in Pukekohe are fine, it’s another 30 minutes added to their day but no big deal. For that reason, Pukekohe’s hospitality sector should still do okay. It’s a fair haul north to anything decent from Pukekohe.

If like most of the race teams you have booked in downtown Auckland you need to plan – on a good day – for the one way trip to take you around an hour. Google maps has it at 70 km and 51 minutes.

You won’t be able to catch a train to HD though, no such service exists and the North Island Main Trunk Line is nowhere near the circuit. Closest you’d get is if there was a special train and the concrete slab at Te Kauwhata was available to receive passengers.

Tony Roberts, a driving force behind the creation of Hampton Downs before it was sold to the ‘other Tony’ (Quinn) is retired now and living in Hawkes Bay. His team had this whole scenario mapped out a decade ago including how to work through the resource consent edifice to sort out parking and grandstands and such.

It’s reckoned that the grandstanding for the event weekend will need to have a capacity around 45,000. Not that there is a shortage of seating, in fact the slabs of seating deployed for the A1GP at Taupo may well still be available, although there were talks at the time about them being sold offshore. With no word of whether the move is multi-year, it’s better to lease gear like this anyway.

Traffic management is part of the work-up by the Roberts crew. If 45,000 people drive cars to the circuit State Highway One will be the parking lot. But it’s entirely possible the fields beside the Meremere Dragway will be able to be used, with shuttles bringing a steady stream of people to the gates. Fields closer to the circuit off SH1 are unlikely to be safe for parking as they are swampy and would turn to mud soup at the first hint of rain.

Likewise, there’s more vacant land owned by the circuit than many might believe, and that would give people a range of options with vision of the circuit or parked away out of sight. All those businesses down Manukau Road who charged $20 a car and more for private parking when the V8s at Pukekohe will not be doing so this time.

The exits off the motorway will be key. Perhaps there is room to make a two-lane offramp. Or maybe we we can take a leaf out of the clever traffic management used in Malaysia when Sepang had an F1 race – express train from downtown, into luxury coaches, wrong way down the motorway and a ‘managed’ crossing into the slip road to the circuit. Wrong way? Yep, thanks to an all-business phalanx of wee men in black with berets and submachine guns. Police, fully tooled-up for the occasion, coned off the motorway and made that final four km a breeze.

So will all that work done by the Roberts team save the current owners and managers time and money in the scant few months they now have? Tony says “that work should still be laying around there, hopefully they have kept it.”

Nice touch: organisers are already refunding ticket purchases for those who can’t make Hampton Downs work for their schedules.

Full grids, plenty of talent on show in the TRS single seaters

Meanwhile the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series is set to hit Pukekohe next month in the penultimate round of the country’s premier open-wheeler competition.

It’s a bold move, bringing together New Zealand’s fastest race circuit with the new TRS cars, which will easily match the outright speeds of the V8-powered Formula 5000s down the front and back straights of what is also the bumpiest circuit in the summer series.

The series last visited Pukekohe back in the days of the original FT40 cars, and some high speed crashes and near misses prompted management to seek a different venue for their other northern round. That was back when the international series was wrapped inside a longer domestic season of racing.

Back to this year: the grid is fully subscribed this year at 20 cars with two Kiwi drivers; competition begins this weekend at Highland Park and runs over the next four weekends to the Grand Prix.

The summer series will mix and match categories across the core five weekends, with the BNT V8s staying north but the crowd-pleasing ENZED Central Muscle Cars and others including the Toyota 86 Championship, Porsche series, TradeZone GTRNZ, NEXEN Tyre Pro 7 Mazda Racing, Hi-Q Components Formula First and V8 Utes filling the gap in varying numbers.

Main picture: A full field of V8 SuperTourers at Hampton Downs in 2013

Mark Baker

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

Related Stories

Dramatic win for Coulthard at The Bend

TalkMotorsport Medium Read Length MEDIUM READ

Join in the conversation!