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Development of a motorsport and related industries in the Franklin District could bring in healthy foreign exchange earnings as New Zealand gets on the world map as an international motorsport location.

 BY:  Mary Mackinven

 Motorsport has connotations of big money, swashbuckling heroes with foreign accents and major brands like Ferrari.

New Zealand has its fair share of famous petrol-heads. Auckland-born Bruce McLaren put New Zealand on the world racing map and later established the McLaren empire.  Well known drivers and their teams with accents exotic to the rest of the world include Bruce, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon (who drove an F1 Ferrari), Bert Munro, Possum Bourne, Scott Dixon and Greg Murphy.

Upping New Zealand’s capacity to serve the industry worldwide are historic car race drivers and motorsport businessmen Tony Roberts and Chris Watson of GP Farms – the dreamers, the funders and the operations managers behind Hampton Downs Motorsport Park and Convention/Events Centre.

Hampton Downs

Managing director Roberts says the plan has been to build a modern motorsport complex to complement the existing facilities and raise the profile of motorsport in New Zealand.

Located half-way between Auckland and Hamilton on State Highway 1 and a stone’s throw from the Meremere drag racing circuit, the Hampton Downs complex is not quite ready for public spectators as can be seen in the photo (below) taken in late October.  Completion is three to four years away.Petrol head 1-0000

But its finished track (one of three planned) already hosts races such as targa rally laps and performance car driver training. It is booked a year ahead with 18 races including the World Rally Championship in May and the A1 Grand Prix in November. Starting in 2011 are three years of World Superbikes to be televised to two billion people and likely to draw 10,000 international followers.

The tourism implications are obvious.  Contractors are racing against the clock to ready facilities for the first public event, in January 2010 – the inaugural New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing.

The two directors mailed their contacts and handed out brochures at international events to attract the 120 teams coming from around the world.

“Motorsport is a very tight and supportive community,” says Hampton Downs website and business manager Claire Roberts, daughter of Tony.

Moving the Baby

Bringing the vehicles to New Zealand for the festival is Jenner Cargo International, a company that specialises in automotive, marine and aviation freight, and special projects.

New Zealand general manager Phil Gibbs says: “This cargo is always being moved to a time-frame, such as for race meetings. And clients have a lot of emotional investment in their vehicles, so we baby them the whole way to make sure they get there as planned.”

Meanwhile, the first-ever Bruce McLaren bio-pic (1937-1970) is “in excellent shape”, which is all the Kiwi co-producer, Michael Garlick, could divulge at the time of Exporter going to print.

Franklin District, straddling Auckland and Waikato, aspires to be home to a multimillion-dollar industry. It is the location of Pukekohe Race Park and a host of automotive businesses that have grown around it.

Motorsport Cluster

Enterprise Franklin Development Trust (EFDT) is facilitating more growth, encouraged by a report from Cranleigh Strategic that it commissioned in 2005, which concluded: “From a New Zealand perspective, a motorsport related industry cluster that delivered innovative products and services could increase exports dramatically.”

EFDT has a project manager for motorsport, Sharon McGinity, to facilitate opportunities, including in tourism. Manukau Institute of Technology offers a New Zealand-first Certificate in Motorsport Training, at a satellite site in Pukekohe. Programme leader Trevor Hennessy says this course could target overseas students with basic trade skills.

Success stories include top students from the course working for race teams, including oversea “There are people out there willing to support and employ them. Some of the best teams in the world have Kiwi connections,” Hennessy says.

Possum Bourne Motorsport (PBMS) in Pukekohe is one company employing course graduates. General manager Kevin Sanderson had been in the late Possum Bourne’s race crew for 20 years before assuming his current position six years ago.

Building Cars

PBMS takes a Subaru Impreza WRX STI road car on contract, then comes up with a build solution and setup that will win rallies. “And we haven’t failed.”

Sanderson says PBMS is useless at marketing but sensational at making race cars. Luckily, all work comes by word-of-mouth.

Other cars are made for individual customers to race overseas, or when they need a replacement car in a hurry after damaging one.

“We build the cars here, sell them to overseas customers and send technicians to support them and repaPetrol head takeaways-0000ir the vehicles at events, look after the drivers and make sure their heads are in the right space,” Sanderson says. Language barriers are overcome at overseas races by contracting English speaking nationals. And Sanderson takes an Australian paramedic specialising in motorsport injuries, driver diet and health – “an area where you don’t want communication problems”.

Cast iron V8 cylinder heads are made at Masport Foundries (a sister company of Masport New Zealand) for jet boats and race cars in the US.  General manager Wolf Schmahl says the company has sent as many as four container loads a month and is adding to the automotive range of products with alloy inlet manifolds for all types of cars.

Motorsport also provides promising export markets for Trimax Mowing Systems. The company’s tractor powered lawn mowers groom the fields at Atlanta and Florida speedways.

Trimax marketing manager Tim Fanning says, “When the 100 or so million people tune into the next NASCAR seriesat Atlanta they will see the beautifully striped grass around the track.”

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