Hahei heaven on two wheels
Rider refines technique and becomes a role model, writes Colin Smith
It's easy to assume the Leadfoot Festival is a four-wheel showcase with most attention on the stars and cars of the past.
But, with a twist of the wrist, rather than a leaden foot, Auckland early childhood teacher Sharn Steadman fulfilled her dream of competing at Rod Millen's Hahei hillclimb festival.
Steadman's passion for two wheels has seen her in action at track days and trail rides while also tasting competitive success in drag racing.
Riding a 400cc machine, she won the 2013 Women's title at Meremere's Night Speed Drag Wars Series and the big 4 and Rotary Nationals race day. Now she is riding a 2008 Yamaha R6 and refining her quarter-mile techniques, closing in on 11-second passes on her 600cc machine.
So how did she go from the flat-out straight line Meremere challenge to the steep hairpins of Millen's tricky hillclimb?
"Last year I attended the Leadfoot as a spectator," she says. "I was on the hill overlooking the magnificent driveway and the machinery which was climbing it and told myself and friends 'next year I would be riding that course'.
When her application to race was accepted she prepared the bike with the help of Watson Racing in Kumeu.
"I transformed my KTM 200EXC, a 200cc two stroke enduro motorcycle, with tyres and suspension that would better suit the course. I was confident that this machine would be well suited for the course, and my riding style, described by some as 'ballsy', would make a good combination."
Steadman was the only female motorcyclist at Leadfoot 2016 (possibly in the festival's history) and one of three females competing this year.
"The weekend got off to a damp start but the bike was well suited to the conditions, running treaded Metzeler tyres which were suggested by Forbes and Davies."
Steadman improved her times over the weekend by 10 seconds and her final run was 64.73 seconds on a dry course.
"My second run was eight seconds faster than the first. Despite a damp track for the second to fourth runs I was consistently making improvements to my climbs. I identified several sections to work on, and took great pleasure in sliding my rear tyre into the first left-hand uphill turn on every run.
"I had to make a special effort to keep the front wheel weighted as it had a tendency to lift under power, not ideal when wanting to maintain a fast pace but wonderful for spectators.
"I finished the weekend 0.2 seconds off being the fastest of the three two-strokes -- Mike Pero and Todd Sutherland who rode Yamaha TZ's with wonderful style.
Steadman says she was surprised to be invited to ride at the Leadfoot Festival. "My machine is not too nostalgic and my rider credentials were largely unknown.
"To share the two-wheel pit tent with riders such as Stephen Briggs, Grant Woolford, Bill Buckley and Mike Pero was surreal, but the camaraderie and respect among all the riders and drivers was a demonstration of how welcoming the motorsport scene in New Zealand is for newcomers.
"I am hoping that next year I will be invited to return to Rod Millen's beautiful hillclimb to improve on my times, as pulling to a halt at the top of the hill with a puffing body, shaking hands, and the biggest smile while a hot two stroke puffed away underneath me was nothing short of heaven."
Steadman wants to begin stunt riding and broaden her competition experience with some "Bucket" racing events at local kart tracks
She's also keen to share her two-wheel enthusiasm.
"'I have obtained affiliation with Ride Like a Girl Racing in the United States as their first international female rider and I have been enjoying being a role model to women considering getting into the sport."