KIWI COMPETITORS FACE HARD ROAD FULL OF FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY
The recent achievements of our Kiwi international motorsport stars focused the New Zealand public and media attention on them, and rightly so.
Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley placed first and second respectively at Le Mans for Porsche, Mitch Evans finished second in class in the LMP2; and Hayden Paddon is now our most successful rally driver after a second at Rally Italy.
The stories behind these now world famous names, with Le Mans and World Rally success behind them, how they got to where they are now, are similar and familiar to many young and talented aspiring Kiwi motorsport hopefuls.
Basically hard work, dedication, more hard work, perseverance and talent.
Just getting on to that world stage has been a battle to claw and scrape their way from the bottom rung of the ladder, racing in karts with Dad as the mechanic and Mum on the sandwiches.
On then to small single seat race cars or home built rally cars, getting accepted to the MSNZ Elite Academy, working up to the Toyota Racing Series or national rallies and then, like small birds fledging from the nest, bravely flinging themselves into the unknown abyss of money hungry, cut throat competition that is “international motorsport”.
All of these Kiwi drivers have had a very hard road to get to where they are just now and in the case of Evans and Richie Stanaway recent success does not mean that the hard road ahead is not still pockmarked with massive potholes and fissures of financial uncertainty.
Most of our talented drivers have been supported to some extent by private individuals here in New Zealand, initially their parents and then most notably for some, by the likes of Sir Colin Giltrap, but all have scratched and clawed their way to where they are now.
Not for them the luxury of having a South American supermarket chain or Petro chemical company in the family.
The New Zealand media attention that celebrated the recent successes was reflected around the world and reported on in every corner from the Americas to Asia, Northern hemisphere to the Southern.
Nearly all of that media talk about the New Zealand drivers, mention them by name and one or two even go so far as to mention their New Zealand regions of origin.
Brendon Harley (right) on the podium of Le Mans
The television audience for those two events eclipses virtually any other sport in which Kiwis compete regularly.
Add to the mix people like Scott Dixon and our V8 Supercar drivers and I venture to say that the motorsport talent of this country, collectively, garners more publicity, more awareness on that daily or weekly basis for New Zealand, in worldwide terms, than pretty much any other sport.
Do these guys and girls, who race almost weekly, get any substantial help from the Government?
No, they do not! And that is a disparity that needs to be now addressed.
Would it be too much to ask that the Government, through one of its sporting agencies, put some funds and horsepower into getting the New Zealand Rally back here? Or investing in programmes to encourage young competitive drivers to start on the road to international success or to provide some support, be it on a temporary basis, to drivers on the cusp of that international success?
Getting the Rally of New Zealand back on the calendar would be an important step, and an achievable one with some Government assistance, in showcasing this country to the world and most probably doing that at a fraction of the cost of any other advertising campaign or sailing event.
Earl Bamber was part of the driving team that won Le Mans this year for Porsche.
The domestic track racing scene has been in considerable disarray over the last several years but there is now a strong movement to get that calendar back in shape with the announcement this week by MotorSport New Zealand of a cohesive ‘Premier Race Calendar’ that will include the Toyota Racing Series, New Zealand Touring Cars, UDC V8 Utes, the Ssangyong Race Series, Tradezone GTRNZ, ENZED Central Muscle Cars and the Toyota Finance 86 Championship, with Formula Ford, Formula First, Pre-65, Motul Honda Cup, NZ Sportscars, Superkarts, Pro 7 and OSCA all making likely appearances on the card.
At last there seems to be a united front that will attract more sponsors, more competition, more crowds and hopefully, more young talent in competition. It looks like an end to the damaging split that befell the touring car classes and caused the very fabric of the sport to descend to a vindictive power struggle that predictably left both sides injured, almost fatally.
Providing government funds, via properly co-ordinated national agencies, to enable more aspiring talented drivers to start on the path of our recent world beaters would be another way to show that this country does not only turn out hopeless “Boy Racers,” but “Boys and Girls who can Race”.