Opinion: Time for NZ to get serious about motorsport
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Herald writer Dale Budge says we need to invest more in motorsport
It is time the government and sports funding agencies sat up and took notice of what Kiwis are achieving on the global motorsport stage.
The reality is we are in the middle of a golden era of Kiwi motorsport and now would be the time to capitalize by ensuring the next generation follows in the footsteps of the current one.
No other sport succeeds as much on the world stage with almost no funding from Sport NZ or the like. It seems a stark comparison to sports like rowing, cycling and sailing, who have all been rewarded with an increase of funding whenever they have enjoyed success.
Over the weekend Shell V-Power Ford drivers Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin each won a race in the Supercars championship in Darwin. That lifts the tally of Kiwi wins to 11 from 12 races so far this season with defending champion Shane van Gisbergen the other New Zealander to collect wins in the category. Coulthard leads McLaughlin by 10 points in the championship with van Gisbergen fourth. It seems like it will be a battle between the New Zealanders for the title this season.
Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber celebrate winning the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Photo / Porsche
Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber produced a stunning comeback, along with German teammate Timo Bernhard, to win the famous Le Mans 24 Hour Race with the Porsche factory team after earlier spending over 90 minutes in the pits with a mechanical issue. Yes it took a number of other cars to fall over but the Kiwis and Bernhard fought back superbly to steal victory. The fact both young New Zealanders are even in the Porsche factory team is a testament to what they have achieved in Europe in recent seasons.
Scott Dixon leads the IndyCar championship in the United States and remains head and shoulders the best driver in the field. He is closing in on some incredible career numbers that would have him in the discussion as being the greatest driver in the category's history.
Speedway driver Michael Pickens has just returned from the United States where he took his small, Kiwi midget team to the Illinois and Indiana Speed Weeks and beat the best professional drivers on the planet including NASCAR star Kyle Larson.
WRC star Hayden Paddon hasn't had such a successful year so far in 2017 but he has found himself winning stages and leading rallies in the past two events and remains one of the brightest prospects in the sport.
Drifting hero Mad Mike Whiddett is a global star and has more Facebook followers than any New Zealand sports star - easily more than the likes of Richie McCaw, Sonny Bill Williams, Steven Adams or Joseph Parker.
Mitch Evans, Richie Stanaway, Nick Cassidy and Marcus Armstrong are doing great things in various parts of the world as well.
It isn't just drivers either. Numerous mechanics, designers and the like are involved in various categories around the world. Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton's personal trainer and mental skills coach is a New Zealander.
Everywhere you look Kiwis are succeeding in motorsport.
Scott Dixon is on track for a fifth IndyCar championship. Photo / Getty Images
All the more remarkable is that New Zealand's geographic location and small population makes it extremely hard for our drivers to even get opportunities overseas as the sport becomes more about who has the weight of support or who can afford to pay for an opportunity rather than earning it through skill and hard work.
The World Rally Championship is poised to return to New Zealand in 2018 but even if the FIA and WRC promoters agree to include us on the calendar the organisers will still be searching for funding to put the event on. The government will throw a small amount of money at it but not nearly enough when you consider what they invest in other sporting events.
The future of the Supercars round at Pukekohe is still not guaranteed beyond this year with Auckland Council and the sport currently in discussion about a contract extension.
When you consider our country's rich history in the sport and see the level of talent we have in our midst it blows your mind at the lack of support at the highest level of sports funding.
At a time when the country is going gaga over the America's Cup in the waters of Bermuda, there is another opportunity for New Zealand to put its name on the sporting map for years to come. An investment into major motorsport events and some funding for the next crop of junior drivers to make it overseas should be a no-brainer.