It’s Monday evening. We’re back in Christchurch after finishing up our last race weekend in Dunedin on Sunday and then drove up to Christchurch today. And, we’re very happy to report, we completed the final race weekend at Dunedin in great style, the cars totally in tact, and with a plethora of war stories to tell. YEAH! The big NZ adventure was a total success!!!
As to the Dunedin weekend, Diane now has her first street race under her (seat)belt(s) and she enjoyed it immensely. And we both encountered our first hill climb event. Many new firsts.
The Dunedin street race was a one-day affair, on Sunday. (More on the Sat. hill climb later). It was a brief affair, being only one day. In the morning we got one lousy little four-lap practice session, which, by the way, is also your qualifying session! Then there were two six lap races in the afternoon. Not very much time to learn a track.
I think Diane was surprised at how much fun it was in spite of all the Armco, concrete, and tires barriers being a constant threat. On the other hand, the walled circuit creates a very special sensation when your are are whizzing by them at speed. And on a hilly section of the track it was really cool having natural terrain and spectators all around and above you with the sounds resonating back.
We read in Monday’s regional newspaper there were 6,000 spectators. The race received front page coverage, plus other stories and pictures throughout the paper. It was a big deal in Dunedin.
The best news is that we finally had a great day of sunshine with only one race session having a brief “shower”. Guess whose session that was? Yup. Mine. My practice/qualifying session was dry, but my first race was in a bloody downpour (aka a NZ “shower”). Very scary on a street course, let me tell you. None of the races in the rain at prior race tracks bothered me. In fact, I enjoyed learning and racing in the wet. But I must admit that racing in the wet, nay, standing and running water, on a street course is a whole ‘nuther thing. “Fearsome” actually comes to mind. Seeing the checkered flag was a welcome sight. I was glad when it was over.
Nevertheless, I managed to finish fourth after starting eighth on the grid. Somehow I picked off a couple of guys on the start, but all the rest of the position gains were due guys spinning off or crashing in the wet. Yikes! No fun at all. There was running water in places and hydroplaning was an off-and-on constant threat if not a reality. Arrrgh! When I got in after the race, I told Diane that she would not be going out unless the track dried out. No way. Also no argument from her. Mercifully it only rained for about 15 minutes (i.e. my race session) and after that it instantly cleared off, the sun came out, and the rest of the races during the day were run on a perfectly dry track with beautiful weather. Thank goodness. If we had we been hit with more rain it would have been such a bummer to have concluded our trip that way. But, as it was, it was a “brilliant” ending for our trip. (Kiwis love describing things as “brilliant”)
So anyway, Diane was able to run both of her races on dry track and really enjoyed the thrill of a street race. It really is a unique feeling and this one has some really hilly, twisties (much more so than even our RMVR Steamboat street race). The hill and dale part of the race course was very cool. Sort of a Monaco Gran Prix feel to it. This was not a long course but it had a very fast section which used a about a ½ mile of motorway. That section then ended by coming down an exit ramp (from very high speed) and then executing a severe 180 degree right hand turn at the base of the ramp. The turn was so sharp you almost came to a stop and had to even clutch it to get rolling again or risk killing the car. And, if you didn’t get full left before turning in for the right hand turn, there was even a chance you couldn’t get the car around the corner. It was that sharp and that slow. But after that hard turn you launched into these marvelously fast hillside twisties that were also up and down dramatically. Great fun.
For the big news, in my final race, I managed to finish second, after again being placed eighth on the standing-start grid. I got a great start, took a very wide line thru the first turn quickly putting four cars behind me. Then during the first several laps, I was dogging a big twin-cam Brabham. What fun to badger a supposedly much faster car! The guy was a slug in the corners. He got a bit rattled watching me in his mirrors in the corners and made a mistake, just clipping a tire barrier (at the apex of the very tight turn talked about above). So I was able to put him away. Then the guy running in third place ahead of me had a mechanical problem, putting him out. This put me in second place at the checkered flag.
Not a bad way to finish up my NZ racing, huh? Very satisfying indeed.
I sort of skipped over the fact that on Saturday in Dunedin there was a hill climb event. It was a short (about 2km or 1.2 miles) up a fairly twisty, steep public (closed off, of course) road. But guess what. It rained for the entire morning. Crap! I did make one slow run in the wet (just a bone fide drizzle this time), but warned Diane that her car and tires simply weren’t OK for a run in the wet. Simply no room for any kind of a mistake. But the afternoon cleared up and we then each got in one run up the hill on dry road.
This was our first hill climb experience. Not sure they are something that I’d waste much time on. Interesting, but a lot of standing around for very little “track” time. We figure we collectively were “on track” for all of 4.5 minutes and spent the entire damn day doing it. Jez! And you really can’t be anything but very, very cautious. Not sure I get the concept. If you press hard, the risks are too great. And you can’t really practice. Oh well, at least we can both now say we’ve done a hill climb.
More importantly, we can say that we did the ENTIRE Southern Festival of Speed, every blessed event and very nearly every available race session, rain or no rain. Yes we skipped a couple of sessions, but only a few.
So, here we are on the final leg of this deal. With our race cars and the trailer now safely tucked away at Crawford’s shop, this afternoon we exchanged our trusty Toyota diesel van (which I loved) for a regular rental car. We’ll spend the next few days here in Christchurch putting things in order and making sure all the Denver race cars a safely loaded into the containers for the trip back to Denver. We hope to then spend a few days touring up north (but still on the South Island, not up on the North Island where they’ve had 100 year flooding), then back home.
It’s been a grand adventure. There will probably be at least one more Update. I’d like to put down some reflections on various things like observations about NZ, how they do their racing down here, some notes on people we’ve meet along the way, etc. Probably the kind of rambling only prompted by a couple glasses of good wine, if you know what I mean.
That’s it for now.