Motorsport: Big OE for Kiwi racers?
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The 'summer of motorsport' approaches
As we stagger out of winter into spring, garages and race car shops reverberate with the sound of knuckles being scraped, inventive new words being levelled at stripped bolts and the fear some mystifying electrical problem will manifest itself deep in the car while midnight oil is burning.
There is a saying that “no fast race car is ever built with days or hours to spare” and those words will be proven over and over again as the New Zealand “summer of motorsport” approaches.
The main championships will be decided from October to March with club racers, gentlemen (and lady) racers, semi-pro and pro racers and youngsters hoping to start a career in the sport.
These young guys and girls will have a hard road to travel to become professional and get paid for their talents. That is almost certainly not going to happen in New Zealand. They will have to go overseas to have any hope of making a living.
More than likely they will have to spend a fortune of their own, or preferably somebody else’s, to get there.
It is the same for young hopefuls in most countries but the main difference is in the sport’s funding. New Zealand is not geared up for corporates to support and encourage young drivers as they do in many countries with larger populations.
In the early 1970s the French ELF oil corporation developed a racing driver school, Volant ELF. Over the next two decades a generation of Formula 1 drivers were developed, including three grands prix winners and, in Alain Prost, a multiple F1 world champion.
The scheme continues to produce drivers, engineers and mechanics. Similar schemes have been introduced in other European countries but in New Zealand it has been left up to the likes of Sir Colin Giltrap and his family to support drivers they consider to have potential.
Over the past few weeks, two schemes have been announced in New Zealand that may help junior drivers get a foothold, however small, overseas.
The first comes with the support of Toyota NZ and Toyota Australia and is a first for any New Zealand series.
The winner of the 2015-2016 Toyota Finance 86 Championship will have the opportunity to race at Bathurst in the Australian Toyota 86 Pro-Am races in October 2016. The drive is fully funded and the event is a support race to the V8 Supercars Bathurst 1000.
A good showing at that event, in front of a TV audience of millions and about 200,000 fans trackside, could easily kickstart a career in the Australian professional race series.
The second is a long shot but could, given good fortune and talent, set the winner on a US career. The winner of the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship will attend an international shoot-out which could lead to a supported drive in the USF2000 Championship in 2017. Details are in Simon Chapman’s column on the facing page.
Both of these opportunities come with long-term prospects for young Kiwi drivers. But, like most things in motorsport, they will be a long haul and only hard work and determination will see the best survive.