OK; this is just one man’s opinion of the January Bathurst Festival at Hampton Downs. It comes from the online newsletter at ‘CRC MotorNews.co.nz’, and was written by someone with the nom de plume ‘Spannerman’. No, I don’t know who he is, but he was not impressed with the very first Festival entirely created and run by the Hampton Downs team. All the previous events, from the first ‘NZ Festival of Motor Racing, Celebrating Bruce McLaren’ in 2010, were run by a large team of volunteers, the whole event coordinated, driven, and ably led by Jim Barclay. When the circuit was sold, the new owner took over the running of these events. The Kenny Smith Festival in January last year was the first that was held after the circuit changed hands, but that entire event had already been set up by Jim Barclay and his dedicated team, and the smooth running was a legacy of that. The wildly fluctuating weather did its best to disrupt things, and this was the first Festival to be run on a single rather than two consecutive weekends, but it all worked fairly well. This year’s Bathurst Festival was the first one created entirely by the professionals, and Spannerman’s opinion reflects what he thought of that. It is reproduced here exactly as he wrote it, including typos and grammos, and without comment. Reads:
Spannerman: 3:11 pm January 15, 2018
“I went to the Bathurst Legends meeting at the weekend. That was the worst $50 of motor racing I think I might have ever spent.
“You could hear from Legends, they were everywhere on the PA, waxing lyrical about their jolly fine memorial dinner and what a treat all the wonderful stories they enjoyed were. I think someone forgot that the essence of a day at motorsport is some action on the track. It was like serving up a steak dinner without the meat.
“Single seaters, two competitive cars, oh dear.
“Bathurst legends, now Phil Laird is a lovely guy but how the hell did his BMW E30 ever become a Bathurst legend? It’s a leftover from the BMW race series and has about as much in common with Bathurst as my left foot. No that’s wrong, my left foot has been to Bathurst. When the leading car is around 7s a lap faster than the rest of the field it’s a yawn fest. Was there one real Bathurst car in that field?
“However the Archibald Historic Touring cars were great, so as not to endanger the crowd’s pulse rate or wake anyone they didn’t get a feature race. When they did get on the track it was great to see Charlie Obrien’s Nissan and John Bowe peddling Mark Petch’s beautiful Volvo 240T along with a host of other fantastic old touring cars all polished within an inch of their lives.
“Thank the Lord for the muscle cars, last race of the day and head and shoulders the best, in fact the only, racing for the day.
“If you are, as you have threatened to bring this event back next year I suggest you hold back on the cherished guests and offer the paying crowd, and next year it might be both of them, what they paid for a little motor racing for their money.
“Or here is a wild idea, give the event back to the guys who used to run the festivals so that they can put on a decent festival.
“Here is another tip. Just when the crowd has arrived why not piss them off by stopping all the on track action for over an hour, that was a genius move. Sadly just one of many.”
We didn’t manage to attend this year’s event. My race class for the Historic Single-Seaters and Sports-Racing Cars was not invited to compete, so we found other things to do that weekend. I have since heard from others who did attend, and they have all agreed with ‘Spannerman’. One commented: “You could have fired a gun along any part of the park, and not hit a soul. They have handed the “Goodwood in NZ” title to Rod and Shelley, with their Leadfoot Festival, as they get heaps more people, attract a bunch more of the big names and are actually delivering on the concept of what Goodwood is all about.”
So. Just one hundred and twenty-two entrants, in only five classes. A third of the numbers from previous Festivals. I’m told that two classes were apparently good to watch; the rest were a mix of odd combinations of cars. But, in their wisdom, they have announced they are going to run it every year. Bon chance. No, really.
Of course, it’s not just this event that has become greatly diminished. The MSNZ National Championship event at Ruapuna was equally dismal. Apart from the Mazda RX7, some Porsches, OSCA saloons and trucks (six), there was a composite Formula Ford race, ten only in the BNT V8 race, thirteen TRS, and ten Toyota 86s. TRS has been remarkably strong the last few years, with all twenty chassis
allocated for the entire five-round season. They didn’t always shine in everyone’s eyes, but after ten-plus years running the class, they were well connected and whoever took over from them clearly wasn’t able to attract the necessary competitors. Eighteen of the twenty drivers last year were internationals. In 2018, it’s just eight of the thirteen.
The pinnacle of our Sport? Sad.
These small numbers compare very unfavourably with this year’s Skope Classic at Ruapuna, which had over two hundred competing cars, or the November Classic Manfeild, with around three hundred. I’m not suggesting that the people running the Classic meetings should take over running the ‘mainstream’ events. Not for a moment. But it’s patently obvious that some are doing things that appeal to both competitors and spectators, and some aren’t. There must be a lesson here somewhere.This issue of Bespoke follows unusually soon after the previous one, but I seemed to have a lot of copy fighting for release. It is likely that the next issue will take a lot longer…