The five weirdest racing series’
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The world of motorsport is an interesting one, which is why it enamoured me as a young boy — capturing me in its web of high speeds and pretty promo models. And once I got to know the sport on a deeper level, it would only get weirder.
Among the most curious elements of the sport are the ring of men and women behind the scenes who help push decision-makers in particular directions. Their actions occasionally result in brilliance, and occasionally also in failure — and no doubt their fingers are all over a few of the five weirdest racing series’ below.
The Mazda 121 Challenge
Gender equality is the new black and, unfortunately, for every productive idea spawned by marketing departments and corporates to advocate it, there are at least three which go terribly.
In the mid-1990s, the Australian Mazda 121 Challenge took to circuits all over waltzing Matilda’s backyard. It was a one-make, one-gender class, open only to female competitors and a car which shares the same silhouette with a puppy stool —a notoriously effeminate car for an effeminate group of drivers who could ‘probably never handle anything more powerful’. Equality!
The motives behind the series may have been rosy and innocent, but the result was a class padded with numerous crashes, including most notably the sight of a 121 skating down the main straight of Sandown Raceway on its lid, like an upturned tortoise that just wanted to give up and go home. The class quickly became a bit of a joke — despite helping foster the careers of future V8 Supercar drivers Kerryn Brewer and Melinda Price — before fading into obscurity.
SsangYong Race Series
From our own shores comes the incomparable SsangYong Racing Series. Oh how we laughed when it was announced that there would be a one-make class for SsangYong's Actyon ute — modestly modified to keep prices keen. Who would bother entering? How many would somersault at their first sighting of a corner?
However, we were all shoveling plate after plate of mom's sweet humble pie when round one of the series kicked into gear in 2015, as a field of more than 25 utes lined up in parc fermé — easily one of the biggest grids in all of New Zealand Motorsport.
Then when the lights went out things got even better. The racing was largely clean, competitive, and — subsequently — it was damn entertaining.
Aussie Racing Cars
The Aussie Race Cars are what happens when you take a platform that’s smaller than most postage stamps, strap an engine from the Suzuki Hayabusa to it, and then cover it with adorable little bodies fashioned on popular cars, and the Ford Falcon AU.
With platforms so small and so nimble, the resulting racing can get incredibly wild — as can the crashes when everything goes pear shaped, as it did above on the savage streets of the Gold Coast.
24 Hours of LeMons
A kaleidoscope of automotive crap. Beautiful isn't it. Photo / 24 Hours of LeMons
I love the 24 Hours of LeMons. It somehow manages to stomp and spit on motorsport’s finer points and traditions, while simultaneously providing people with the ultimate gateway drug to take their involvement with the sport even further. Fantastic.
For those who have never heard of LeMons, it’s a simple concept. You buy and prepare a car for $500, and that’s effectively it. Classes are decided upon without any form of seriousness, racing takes place, and afterwards everyone soaks up some of that ‘comradery’ stuff you rarely see in top-tier classes. It’s a bit like New Zealand’s 2KCup, except everyone’s just a little bit more insane.
Penalties are a bit different too. Here we see pro race driver Randy Pobst 'forced' (ahem) to work the pole as a penalty for a race infringement. Photo / 24 Hours of LeMons
But nothing draws a denser line underneath the category’s intentions than the themed entries which it encourages. The ‘Wine-fuelled’ Nissan Skyline that appeared in Australia’s edition of the series with a wine barrel on its roof, the NoPro Pikes Peak replica, the Speedycop upside-down Camaro — all are legendary.
LeMons recently made its maiden appearance in Australia. Let’s pray that it comes here too.
FIA Formula E
Photo / FIA Formula E
Ask people on the street what they think makes motorsport popular, and you're likely to get a similar circle of answers; the noise, the fumes — in short: the visceral.
Then you've got the Formula E series for electric open-wheelers, which ignores all of these things to instead field a group of glorified and upturned electric Dysons. Only quieter.
OK. Most of me is taking the piss when I say that. The series produces some great racing, and — putting my adult pants on — the developments that will result from the series could have an incredible effect on how production electric cars in showrooms worldwide perform. But motorsport is probably one of the most visceral sports on the planet, and there's a slice of the sport's most loyal who will never give 'E' the time of day.
And come on, pit stops where drivers swap cars instead of refuel/recharge? Races made up entirely of automated robotic competitors? Those are both awful concepts Mr Formula E, Sir. Awful.