Livin’ Leadfoot: inside the Kiwi Goodwood
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David empties his notebook after Leadfoot Festival
There couldn't have been a more perfect daybreak the first morning of Leadfoot 2017.
The sun started to shine, there was no cloud cover in sight, and I was equipped with my notebook, two cameras, and enough sunscreen to turn my olive complexion pale - I was ready.
I arrived in the car park just prior to the main gate opening at 7am. A group of spectators had bettered my arrival time and were waiting patiently, but excitedly to be allowed into one of New Zealand’s most unique motorsport gatherings.
When you wander the grounds of Rod Millen’s property during Leadfoot weekend your eye's always seem to get distracted as its focus moves from one intriguing object to another.
Tractors, machinery, the sun rising through the bush and the unmistakable camber and elevation of Rod’s personal tarmac stage; the phrase ‘kid in a candy store’ resonates in my mind – then you enter the pits.
There’s no point in listing the variety of vehicle’s to be found here – because there’s everything – and that is by no means an overstatement.
Rod does a fantastic job of securing a vast variety of car’s that are either competing or on display, all with their own rich back story.
From any era, discipline, continent or niche you hold dear, there’ll be something of interest nestled under the covered pit area - and you’re able to gaze, drool and photograph your favorite metal freely, all weekend long.
Pick the right time and you’ll be able to chat with the individuals who build, maintain or drive them too.
By 8am the first run up the famous driveway has commenced. Not everyone is in the hunt for outright speed, but judging by the body language displayed by the cars, everyone’s there to put on a show.
Case and point - Al Unser Jr. The American is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who’s competed in all manner of race class’s including Super Vee (Formula First in New Zealand), World of Outlaws and Can Am. However, Unser would make his Leadfoot debut a vehicle related in no way to any of those class's.
Unser competed in a vehicle affectionately nicknamed ‘Stutz’. It placed third at Indianapolis in 1915, averaging 140.9kph. In 1923 it was imported to New Zealand racing successfully in events at Muriwai beach and winning the NZ cup in 1926, 27 and 28.
From almost a decade prior was a true star of Leadfoot this year. Prepare your finest French accent and have a go at pronouncing the 1907 ‘Sizaire et Naudin Voiturette Sport’.
The brainchild of two French inventors 110 years ago, this particular example was purchased by a Canterbury farmer direct from the factory. After arriving in the country it competed in some of the earliest local motor car races.
It's 1460cc single cylinder engine sends its power to a three speed differential (no gearbox here), and the Suzaire was the first car to feature independent front suspension and variable valve timing.
I could almost see the inventors of the Sizaire scratch their heads in amazement as a low bodied, big winged, silent vehicle followed their car up the hill – the Nissan NISMO Leaf RC.
The full electric prototype debuted back in 2011 to applause as loud as its engine noise, on our shores at least.
Which is very unfair in my view. It features the same power unit as it's mass produced little brother, drive goes to the rear wheel's, double wishbone suspension take's care of the bendy stuff, and everything's packaged in a carbon tub, equating to a total weight of 925kg.
Andrew Porter left his 6 tonne Supertruck at home and got behind the wheel of Nissan's electric prototype, who’s contrast to the 1907 Sizaire I think sum up perfectly the variety and flavor of Leadfoot – no car is too weird or too niche.
But that’s enough electricity for one article; let’s get back to overpowered, ground-shaking competition cars – and no one does that better than the Drifters.
D1NZ is always well represented at Leadfoot and 2017 would be no exception. Curt Whittaker, ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddet, ‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse, Darren Kelly and Cole Armstrong all put on an impressive display of speed and car control, doing their upmost to destroy rear tyres in one pass.
A special treat for Drifting fans was the appearance of four-time national Drift King Gaz Whiter in his LS powered S14.
At the opposite end of the smoke spectrum you’d find American Paul Dallenbach in his 2006 Dallenbach Special.
Dallenbach is an eight-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb winner, including three outright titles.
The 2006 Dallenbach Special he brought over for Leadfoot is also the current Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record holder in the Open Wheel Class.
To my surprise, the Dallenbach Special handled the tight turns of the course with relative ease, and finished the weekend eighth fastest.
My unofficial top performer of Leadfoot award would have to go Ian Ffith on his 2002 BRM 1000 Super Quad.
This might come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen Ffith ride a 'quad bike', but if you haven’t, Ffith is so comfortable throwing his machine around at speed, it made me concerned for his own well-being.
The quad was designed to win Race to the Sky, it certainly wasn’t intended for tarmac use. Only 10 per cent of the bike could be described as ‘original’, with the remainder custom built to fly up mountains.
Fitch certainly achieved that, manhandling his superbike powered quad with what looked like zero personal regard, resulting in the fourth fastest time of the weekend.
Fourth happened to be less than one second slower than Alister McRae's winning time set in an ex-WRC car - not bad for something that started life as a piece of farming machinery.
Leadfoot festival was originally established to celebrate Rod Millen’s 60th birthday, but as the entry list and spectator numbers grow, the whole event edges itself deeper into the hearts and minds of petrol heads here and abroad.
Almost 130 competitors from all corners of the globe made the trip to Rod’s ranch this year, and there shouldn't be much doubt next year’s entry list will be equally colourful.
Leadfoot's a weekend experience all its own. Blending everything motoring and motorsport together for the sake of a good time and subsequent laugh.
Thank you to Rod Millen and Shelly Campbell for all the effort you put into Leadfoot Festival.
And thank you for welcoming thousands of us to enjoy the sights, sounds and sunshine on your property.
The Leadfoot Festival will return next year over February 3-4 – I already have the dates circled.