Sir Jackie Stewart praises Kiwi motorsport achievements
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Sir Jackie Stewart won three Formula 1 world championships in the 1960s and 70s and is considered one of the greatest drivers of all time. He sat down with Dale Budge to chat about New Zealand.
Sir Jackie Stewart has always had a love for New Zealand.
An icon of motor racing in the 1960s and 70s Stewart became good friends with Kiwi legend Bruce McLaren as well as other leading New Zealand drivers while competing in the Tasman series.
So when he was asked to appear on the documentary film McLaren - detailing the genius of the late driver and car designer - he had little hesitation in accepting.
"Bruce was a fantastic man - a great friend apart from anything else - and one of the first people in Formula 1 that gave me a little bit of attention and friendship," the 78-year-old Scot told The Herald.
Sir Jackie Stewart during his competition days. Photo / Getty Images
"He and his wife were a couple that Helen [Stewart's wife] and I spent quite a bit of time with. I stayed with them in their home down south when I was beginning to go international.
"Bruce was a real hero as far as I was concerned."
Stewart thinks New Zealand is one of the great motorsport nations and points out the incredible list of Kiwi drivers to have made it on the world stage - all following in McLaren's wake.
"New Zealand has produced some many good drivers - Howden Ganley, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon etc and Bruce led that," Stewart said. "It was Bruce McLaren that brought everyone's attention in motorsport to New Zealand.
"He was a man of great order and gentleness, great manners and just a really nice man and he was an awful good race driver.
"He was a great contributor and I think it is wonderful this movie has been made about him and New Zealand should be very proud of him.
"There is, to this day, a lot of very good racing drivers coming out of New Zealand. For a small country it is a little like Scotland in that respect."
Stewart thinks Bruce McLaren open doors for other Kiwis. Photo / Photosport
Stewart is in the unique position of having seen or raced against the best drivers in the history of the sport.
"My ultimate hero and the man who represented our sport and carried it in the best way in and out of the cockpit was the Argentine Fangio - Juan Manuel Fangio," Stewart explained.
"Of course I never drove against him.
"Stirling Moss is still one of the great names in the world of motorsport. He's not very well right now but I saw him just the other day and he is still a great man.
"Jim Clark was the best driver I ever raced against. We came down to New Zealand a lot to do the Tasman championship. I was lucky enough to win that championship and raced at Pukekohe and one or two other race tracks and won the New Zealand Grand Prix.
"Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were around at about the same time. Senna fans won't like this much but I think Prost was the better driver - a real thinking driver - smooth and clean but Senna of course was probably the fastest at that time but he was always right on the edge all of the time.
"[Michael] Schumacher had a tremendous career. [Sebastian] Vettel and [Lewis] Hamilton today are both top racing drivers."
Stewart tips New Zealand's only ever Formula 1 world champion as a driver right up there with the best and of course McLaren himself was in the discussion.
Stewart rates Bruce McLaren up with the very best. Photo / Getty Images
"Denny Hulme was one of the most modest and remarkable drivers. Unlike Bruce - Bruce looked like a racing driver - Denny was just so relaxed and so at ease within himself he was a one-off. His father won the Victoria Cross in WW2 and an absolutely amazing man. Denny had that same streak of courage in him. He raced clean and never chopped anyone off and so forth and was a great driver to race against.
"That period was the halcyon period with a really great collection of drivers. Just now we really only have two or three that are right up the front. In those days we had about eight that were about as good as each other.
"The trouble with my period and Bruce's period is that it was horribly dangerous. If you raced for five seasons there was a two out of three chance you were going to die.
"They were great years that made motor racing as big as it is today."