As most of you know by now, I was heavily involved in the recent TengTools NZ International Rallycross event at Baypark Stadium. Getting involved happed purely by chance when I met Ron Dixon at Dave Holder’s fundraising dinner in December 2015.
Ron mentioned he was bringing Rallycross back to NZ, using Baypark Stadium as his venue. It sounded really cool so I offered to put something about it on my website to help promote it. That very quickly turned into Ron asking me to be involved, which I agreed, happy to be part of something new and upcoming. Little did I know what that actually meant!
Being involved at a high level gave me a real insight into what really goes on behind the scenes, and boy was that an eye opener! I imagined a whole team of people helping Ron, but it turns out there were just 3 of us. Ron, myself and Angela. Angela was responsible for all of the graphic design – from logos to programs etc, myself – who tried to make a website and liaise with competitors and media. Ron was responsible for everything else – from liaising with the venue, organising a permitting club (in this case, MBOP), sorting out vendors, hospitality suites, finding sponsors, canvassing the event at other car events around NZ …. In fact, the list of what Ron was doing single handedly was just unbelievable! I have the utmost respect for him and his drive to make the event happen, despite the many major setbacks that kept happening.
I found it really hard to carry out my part of talking people into entering the event. It was something I’d never done before and found it hard, but on the most part enjoyable. I was having to fit all this in around working full time, which during the weeks leading up to the event was 12-14hr days, and then I had to spend whatever free time I had left calling and emailing people. It’s also meant I’ve not had much time to cover some club events and update my website much.
The majority of the rally community were concerned about any panel damage that might occur, and I get that. Being a club level driver myself I love the challenge of rally, but I also like the fact that no-one is going to take me out. Any damage will be 100% my own fault (99% of the time!), unlike Rallycross where some “rubbing” is inevitable – even sometimes, intentional.
The timing of the event wasn’t perfect as many of the NZRC competitors were in the process of prepping cars for the season ahead and couldn’t make it, even though they would have loved to have had a go.
As the event drew closer my phone got busier and busier as more and more people wanted to come along. I think the entry numbers nearly doubled in the last 2 weeks before the event.
One set of competitors we really struggled to reach out to was the off roaders. We just didn’t appear to be getting the entries, even though many had verbally agreed. After a quick trawl through several of their group Facebook pages, it appeared rumours had been spread around about the event which were untrue. Once I was able to respond to those and explain the actual format, we saw a few more enter which was great.
In fact, one rumour we constantly had to battle against was that the event would not go ahead due to a lack of entries. I believe whoever started this rumor really hurt the event, as many people didn’t enter for fear of losing entry money if the event was cancelled etc. Right from the start we made it very clear that the event would go ahead no matter what. Still, rumours appear to carry a fair bit of weight and we had to fight this right up until the day.
Before I knew it the event had arrived. Dee and I took a day off work and went to the stadium to help setup. I spent the first part of the day with Dave Holder, setting up heaps of flags/banners in the carpark and entrance way. It was starting to look the part. After lunch I spent hours and hours with another volunteer called Kevin hanging flags on every pole around the speedway circuit. It must have taken Kevin 8-9 hours in total to set these all up, but it did look really good when done. A lot of people put in some long hours to make the track and get the place good to go for Saturday. A great effort from a bunch of people who volunteered their time to help. Thank you!
No one knew what to expect as the first cars lined up for some practice runs. Unfortunately, I got busy in the media room and missed the chance to get trackside to watch the first run. I was stuck behind the fence in the concrete section just after the tunnel as the cars left the stadium. I was fully expecting the first few cars to take it easy and test the grip etc. How wrong was I?! I heard the cars coming before I saw them, and could hear they were on it. Jeff Ward in his BMW was the first person to explode into sight on full throttle and a decent amount of opposite lock, followed right behind by Nick Speedy in his Subaru WRX. These guys were flying and it was only a practice lap! This was going to be a lot of fun to watch if everyone drove like these two!
All we had heard up to the event was how it was going to rain etc, but it didn’t happen. Saturday was so hot! Practice turned into qualifying. I don’t think the spectators understood how Rallycross works, with qualifying running 2 cars at a time 10 seconds apart, logging times via transponders. I think those who did come to watch were disappointed not to see fields of 6 running at once.
Unfortunately, the track didn’t stand up to the abuse the cars gave it, and huge ruts / holes formed. Some were car sized!
As the evening approached the 22:00 deadline to stop (due to noise control at Baypark), a light rain shower happened. This turned the clay surface into ice. The cars that were running at the time did well to stay on the track. I had been so busy on the infield for the day, I hadn’t had a chance to have a look at the rest of the track. That was my mission for Sunday’s racing.
Arriving at the track early on the Sunday, the weather played its part again with a beautiful sunny day. I decided to go and do a pit walk and see who was around. There was some activity already happening as drivers prepped cars or made running repairs to get themselves out again for day 2. I stopped off to see Ric Chalmers who was in the middle of cooking breakfast. His son was already in the race car and good to go. It took a bit of effort to encourage him out! I always enjoy chatting to competitors, especially people like Ric, as they remind me what this sport we love is all about.
I didn’t know many of the offroaders, but caught up with Pete Tinsley who I had only met the night before. He had the same attitude as Ric and just embodied what motorsport is all about for me. Everyone was telling me what a blast they’d had the night before, although most had something to say about the ruts. Unfortunately, the type of soil was never going to stand up to what we were doing on it, but it was all we were allowed to use inside the stadium.
Ron Dixon had listened to the issues overnight and had arranged with MBOP for the track to be altered slightly to allow for different lines into the corners, had the ruts repaired, and left the machinery on site to carry out running repairs throughout the day’s racing to minimise the ruts. Having said that, it is Rallycross, and some rough ground is to be expected.
As mentioned, my intention was to shoot from the concrete section during Sunday as I had missed it altogether on Saturday. The heat out there was unbelievable. Not only was the sun baking down from above, but the concrete was bouncing the heat back up at you. I felt really sorry for the marshalls (volunteers) who were stuck out in it with no shade, and with nowhere to sit between heats. It was brutal!
That being said, what a place to spectate! The speed carried into this section from the infield was incredible. The top 4WDs were spectacular with speed into here. Lots of cool car control and commitment was on display. As you’d expect, the top drivers from the NZRC like Phil Campbell, Sloan Cox, Dave Holder, Tyler Radovan and the two Australian competitors, Steve Glenny and Marcus Walkem were outstanding to watch, but there were some other drivers who just have to have a mention for the way they drove. Wayne Pittams was incredibly late on his brakes each time I saw him. Very brave! Jono Shapley was driving at a different level from what I’d seen before. He’s definitely raised his game. He is definitely one to watch in this year’s NZRC if he can keep driving like that! Another closet Rallycross driver was Tony Gosling. He took to it like a duck to water, driving Andrew Hawkeswood’s old Mazda 2 like he stole it! I believe the car now has a new owner 😉
Another driver of note was young Ari Pettigrew. At just 17, his commitment was spectacular along with his car control. He’s definitely one to watch out for in the future, and I really look forward to following his progress. If there’s a sponsor out there looking for a young driver with talent, then don’t go past Ari – we need to see him in the NZRC!
Another driver that just has to be mentioned again is Jeff Ward. He was so committed in his BMW, along with some close racing with Nick Speedy which was just spectacular to watch. Unfortunately for Jeff, he clipped a tyre on the first left hand hairpin which saw him flipping onto his roof. Luckily Jeff was fine, but his car didn’t look so good. Despite having just rolled out, he rushed back to the pits and jumped into his second car, his Subaru Legacy, and was back out competing again! He drove this just as hard!
By now I had walked through to the infield to watch the action inside the stadium. As the afternoon progressed so did the action. There were some great battles forming across all classes.
At the end of one heat Jeff Ward pulled up to me yelling out his window that the BMW was coming back out following its roll! Legend!!
As the afternoon wore on, the heats came to an end with the finals left to run. These were simply awesome to watch – 6 cars side-by-side racing for victory. The racing was hard, frantic, exciting, and spectacular. But the thing that amazed me most was the drivers respect of each other’s space and doing their utmost not to touch each other. I have total admiration for how I saw everyone racing. I should also mention Bradley Stewart at this point. Not only was this youngster driving really well, but he must have had the biggest support in the crowd. Every time he made a move or flew past the grandstand, all I could hear were his supporters cheering him on. Both Bradley and his supporters had truly entered into the spirit.
Sloan Cox did a great job in his Hillclimb Beast to take out the win in the Unlimited 4WD (unrestricted) Class, beating Phil Campbell and Marcus Walkem.
Steve Glenny took out the win for the Rally 4WD (Max 36mm restrictor), beating Phil Campbell and Sloan Cox.
Rally Pre 2000 4WD (Max 36mm restrictor) was won by Tyler Radovan, but only by the smallest of margins to Jono Shapley, both of whom had some pretty decent battle scars from encounters with walls and hay bales etc. Marty Smith came home in 3rd place. Without a doubt, I think Marty had the biggest smile on his face all weekend! And I suspect he’s still grinning as I write this!
Open 2WD (inc over 3500cc) was won by Nick Speedy, with Jeff Ward in 2nd place.
2WD 1802cc-3500cc was won by Stuart McFarlane in his fantastic Porsche, which spent a lot of time on 3 wheels. Dave Shorter in his Mini came second, and young Ari Pettigrew 3rd.
2WD up to 18800cc was won by Ric Chalmers, with Brett Matthews in his mint Mk2 Escort coming in 2nd, and Neil Roots in 3rd place.
The Offroaders were great to watch, and they definitely put on a show. They did have a slight advantage over the rally cars, as the offroaders run side by side at all their events.
The ORANZ Class 1 cars and Class 8 Truck was won by James Buchanan, with Malcolm Langley pushing real hard behind him into 2nd place and William van Der Wal coming 3rd.
ORANZ Class 3 and 5 was won by Campbell Witheford, with Justin Williams placing 2nd.
ORANZ Class 2, 4 and 6 was won by Cameron Tayler, with Rex Croskery placing 2nd.
The ORANZ UTV Class was won by Dyson Delahunty, with Michael Small 2nd, and Ben Thomasen settling for 3rd following a mechanical issue.
A big thank you to Stephen Cole from TengTools NZ for his support of this event, along with the numerous prizes handed out during prize giving.
After the event and heading into prize giving, I’ve never seen so many smiles. It would appear that the majority of competitors had an amazing weekend, and a lot of fun, many of which were already asking when another one would happen.
What a buzz! I went home absolutely exhausted, but with a bigger respect for competitors, some new friends, and a feeling of satisfaction. Job done.
Unfortunately, what happened next was heartbreaking. There was a backlash from people on social media and the papers. After giving 3 months of your life working like a trooper, it was really hard to read those comments. If I felt this bad, how bad must have Ron felt? He personally funded this event without any grants from anyone (unlike the Jetsprints), and had his reputation on the line. I was completely gutted for him to see these comments.
Do these people who instantly want to bag events have any idea of the reach / implications? I think not! How do you think all the volunteers and helpers from MBOP who gave their time to make the vent as good as it could be feel now? How about those marshals who braved the heat and dust without much in the way of breaks due to the relentless way the cars had to keep running to get through the program? With these people events like this wouldn’t happen.
After a few days those few negative comments were soon swamped by the sheer amount of people who got in touch and told us what a great time they had coming to watch. Some even flew up from Dunedin to spectate, and had a great weekend. A huge thank you to those who did come with an open mind to support this event.
Yes, some mistakes were made. But that’s to be expected on an event like this that had never been tried before. Would we do it differently next? You bet we would. Will there be a next time? Who knows. All I know is that it hasn’t been ruled out yet.
I think Ron Dixon should be incredibly proud of what he managed to achieve, especially given the number of obstacles that kept trying to keep this event from happening. Awesome effort Ron. It was a privilege helping you in this venture, and I feel I have made a true friend.
For all the rally drivers at the event, I look forward to catching up with you all at an event somewhere in the country during 2016. For the off roaders, it was a pleasure watching what you do, and I hope to be able to find some time to come along to one of your events and really see you in your element.
Thanks to everyone who gave their time and help to make this event happen.
I don’t think this is the end!