Sunday, October 4, 2009

New Zealand Motorsports

If you’re a Kiwi or a motorsports fan, you know that New Zealander Scott Dixon won the 2008 IndyCar Series Championship and also the Indianapolis 500 this May. Three races remain in the 2009 IndyCar Series. Helio Castroneves has his nose up Scott’s exhaust, but chances are Scott will capture the trophy again for the Kiwis. IndyCars for you non-motorsports fans are those open-wheel, low slung cars that whine around the track like angry hornets. Scott’s championships aren’t an accident. New Zealanders take their motorsports– all their motorsports– very seriously.

Photo By: geognerd

Training for young drivers starts early. Scott raced carts as a seven-year-old. At 13, Scott raced saloon cars– similar to American stock cars. While competing at Pukekohe Park Raceway, he rolled the car on its roof, then struggled from the car with the cushion strapped to his back– the cushion he needed so he could reach the pedals.

Just off Hwy1 about halfway between Auckland and Hamilton, Hampton Downs opened this month. Near Meremere drag strip and oval track in north Waikato, Hampton Downs is a training and testing facility as well as a fancy modern-day motorsport complex.

Photo By: jbimages

Each Boxing Day (December 26) during the Cemetery Circuit, motorbikes (NZ motorcycles) race around the cemetery in downtown Wanganui. In this street race, sometimes called the Southern Hemisphere’s Isle of Man, motorcycles tear around town, zipping around corners– usually. Sidecars bang by, driver in front, feet dragging passenger in back, trying to maneuver around the turns. They’re noisy, so bring ear plugs. Paeroa hosts the race finals in February. There are six low-cost parking spots in the middle of town. When the races are in town, RVs move to the town reserve. Motorcycles often miss the turns and you wouldn’t want a cycle in your bed. If you’re staying home for Christmas, you can watch the Cemetery Circuit race live on the internet. Just make sure to check ahead for the correct times– New Zealand is a day ahead.

Still farther south, near Feilding, you’ll find Manfeild Autocourse. No. I didn’t spell it wrong. The town is named for Lord Feilding. Built in 1973, the track was brought up to international standards in 1990 with its 2.8 mile road course. Manfeild park which contains the course is a busy place. On any day, you might find a horse show, a wedding, a shearing contest or an international race.

Photo By: bishie_01

The South Island is a little shy of large towns north of Christchurch, but south of there each February, you’ll find the Southern Festival of Speed. With three permanent circuits and one temporary circuit in Dunedin, this series for classic and historic vehicles (including motorcycles) has four venues and seven racing days. The courses are in Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin and Invercargill– almost all the way to the end of the South Island. If you plan to visit the Southern Festival of Speed, these towns are all on the eastside of the South Island along Hwy 1. Use a Mileage Calculator to figure your travel time. The Southern Festival of Speed is just one of many events. If you won’t be in the South Island in February, you’ll still find some type of motorsport if you hang around for a while.

Photo By: Warwick Robinson

If you like cars, boats and airplanes, or anything else that goes varoom, varoom, New Zealand is the place for you. While RVing in New Zealand, we spent a good part of our time looking for anything that went fast and made noise-- or did at one time. We found motorcycle races at Mata Mata where sidecars with feet dragging crew maneuvered around corners-- most of the time. We found midget race cars– that spent a good part of the race upside down– at Western Springs Speedway in Auckland. And, we found Destruction Derby races in Kaitai where little kids yelled, "Go Uncle Joe!" and threw dirt clods at the drivers trying to bang Uncle Joe.

Kaitais is where I dropped you in August before I wandered into skiing and motorsports. This is usually a good time of year to find a bargain on airline tickets and plan ahead for your New Zealand trip, so we’ll be dropping down the east coast of Northland, through Auckland and on to parts of the North Island you’ll want to visit.

Lyn Harris

RVinNZ: How to Spend Your Winters South in New Zealand

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Anonymous said...

NZ Festival of MotorRacing: a celebration of life for international race star Bruce McLaren will be at:
Hampton Downs Jan 22-24
Pukekohe Jan 29-31
Tickets are limited and can be
found at:

Anonymous said...

Are those midget racers?

Lyn said...

No. Midgets have a roll bar around the driver then come down in front sloped off around the driver's feet. They look like you need a shoehorn to get the driver in. I know little about motorsports. Check back on some of the photographer's links. You'll find some good photos of several types of cars and cycles.