Published: May 12th 2008April 6th 2008
By invitation from our friends Alison and Phil we attended a Sprint Car Rally fundraising event for Pukehina School, just outside of Te Puke. Officially the event is called the Old Coach Road Seal Bent Sprint and it was sponsored by the Tauranga Mount Motor Sport Club. Phil has been racing rally cars for 20 plus years. Currently he drives a hopped up Mitsubishi Gallant. This was not a too serious race for Phil as he just wanted to test some modifications recently performed on his car. He asked if Sarah and I would like to take a ride in the car while he raced. Now this is the great thing about staying long term in NZ, you don’t have to part with large sums of cash to do extreme activities that are abundant in touristy locations. You simply have to know a Kiwi with a hot car or a hot boat. All Kiwis are adrenalin junkies until proven otherwise. As I understand it, Sprint rallies are short course events that can occur on either unsealed (gravel) or sealed (paved) roads for variable distances. Cars race against time, not other cars. This race was to be 2.5 km in distance and
was to include a practice run and three heats. The start and finish were at the same point. Phil (with his mechanic, Nick on board) had the best time in the practice run at 1 minute 57 seconds. We stationed ourselves at the finish to try to get good photos - not as easy as I thought. On the next run, I got to be the Co-Driver. I served no useful function. The car has a full cage roll bar, racing seats, and four point restraints. A fire extinguisher was located at my feet. In the middle of the console were valves and switches that looked like cut-offs for the fuel and the battery. I took a mental note of how these worked just in case we became airborne, rolled, caught fire, and Phil was incapacitated. Phil assured me that in his twenty years he has never seen anything serious happen to anyone. I then signed a release form absolving the club from any legal implications. At the point that there were two cars ahead of us in line, the race was temporarily flagged. It seems one of the cars did leave the road and broke a telephone pole in
half. Question Number 1: Is the pole in the road? No. Question Number 2: Is the driver injured? No. Hmm, perhaps we should hurry up and try to finish the racing before the power company shows up. We were informed that at least 30 minutes would pass before racing could resume. The ambulance came back without the driver. Again, Phil assured me that this has never happened. Mental note to Mark: Do not play poker with Phil. We decided to eat lunch.
Shortly, the race resumed and I climbed back into a pair of coveralls which I am sure fit a Kiwi perfectly. I found them a little confining. Once helmeted, Alison helped me with the restraints. The engine had been overheating so Phil turned the heater on full, in effort to circulate more coolant. It was a 100° F plus in the car. I stared at the turbo boost pressure gauge, and wondered what that meant. I looked at Phil who seemed zoned out and staring ahead. Phil doesn’t talk much anyway, so I assumed he was psyching himself up. We then approached the starting line. The race official lined the car up and he signaled when ready.
The timing begins once the car crosses the infrared detector. OK, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean this is a Jap car, not a sixties American muscle car. Phil popped the clutch and my head snapped backward. It snapped back again when he shifted into 2nd gear. I was thinking that it might be embarrassing if my head slapped the glass on the turns but I didn’t have time to ponder long as the first turn quickly arrived. The course went something like this: a ninety degree turn to the right, a dip in the road, a series of S-turns while climbing a hill, a short straight away, then a complete 180 degree turn around a cone in the middle of the road requiring just a little bit of off pavement negotiation, then back through the s-turns downhill this time, across the dip which seems a little more dipity do downhill, a ninety degree turn to the left, and then pedal to the floor along the straight to the finish at about 200 kph. Pretty cool - I wonder where I can buy one of these.
The racing was on again and off again the rest of
the afternoon as the power company decided what to do about the downed pole. It was clear that there would not be a complete series of three heats. Sarah caught a ride in a similar car and with a similarly experienced driver. At the start I could see her flashing her beautiful smile. (Sarah - I liked it! I think I might want to have one of these!) I know that there is no way that she and I could share a car, so that means two. Then there is Ben and Grace. This could really get out of hand.
There was a wide cross section of people participating in the rally. Several groups of typical motor-head guys were there but also lots of husband and wife teams. We saw the guy who owns the car rental agency we use racing with his daughter. One fellow in his mid sixties races a diesel VW Jetta on the Volkswagen team in events all around the world. One lady named Shirley is an 80 year old driver of a 1600 cc car. She has been racing five years and this day was racing her new car for the first time. Her
daughter serves as her co-driver. Remarkable - Yes? Well, that’s not all. The number on her car is “1”. That means she lead the class in overall points in the previous season. The season before, her number was “2”. It seems she had to give up her pilot’s license a few years ago. I guess she got bored.
(Sarah - The guy from the rental car shop asked me if I would be interested in driving…uh, riding, with another friend of his in mid-May. This driver has placed in the top 10 in NZ for the past 25 years. I said yes - duh. This was one of the more scary things I have ever done in my life but I loved it. I think I like speed - with a little hint of death defying action thrown in. I hope I have not passed that gene on to my children.)
There are more photos below