Plenty to smile about

By Catherine Pattison on Mon, 12 Feb 2018

I have recently returned from my third Leadfoot Festival at Rod Millen's spectacular Hahei property on the Coromandel Peninsula and despite the 2017 podium results being repeated, there was still plenty to please this Southern petrol-head.

One of the key factors of this event is that every year there are international drivers and different, interesting, machinery competing.

IndyCar star Scott Dixon wasn't new but was undeniably popular. He was brought out from his United States base by Honda New Zealand to drive the brand's multi-award-winning Civic Type R, and his signing session at their tent went on for hours.

Dixon drove a historic 1906 Durraq in 2016 and, while the Type R was definitely a step up in terms of speed, Dixon hinted he would love to be let loose on one of Millen's higher horsepower steeds.

Perhaps a timed run in the event owner's stunning new Ford GT - with 482kW of power and 746Nm of torque - that he was performing un-timed demonstration drives in, could entice Dixon back.

While Millen failed to secure an overall win in his record-setting 1994 Pikes Peak Celica, he set a scorching time in his 1974 Mazda RX3 to take the 1960-75 category victory.

Former world champion drifter Vaughn Gittin jun, in his first visit to New Zealand, lived up to his self-bestowed title of ‘‘Professional Fun Haver''.

On the hill climb, he joined the other drifters showing off their impressive skills as they smoked the course.

Motorbikes were well-represented at Leadfoot and former motocross world number two Josh Coppins and Duncan Hart set some super-quick times on their machines.

However, Australian stunt rider Dave McKenna stole the show with his balance-defying antics on board his Yamaha drift and trick bikes. The sight of him standing on his seat as the motorbike sped along the road was nothing short of jaw-dropping.

At the business end of the event, the Top 10 Shootout was indicative of the variety of vehiclesLeadfoot attracts. It included the new AP4 rally cars of Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda 2) and Greg Murphy (Holden Barina), American Paul Dallenbach's raw open wheeler with its massive aero wing, a 1000cc Polaris race UTV driven by Ben Thomasen, a 1995 Mazda RX7 Series 6 ‘‘Batman'' belonging to Brett Killip and the super quad of Ian Ffitch.

The top three are mentioned in the shortcuts column but winner Alister McRae deserves a special mention. The affable Australian-based Scot was a drawcard for fans over the weekend for a number of reasons. He chatted animatedly with anyone interested in his international rally career or the historically-special ex-Possum Bourne WRC Subaru WRX that he defended his 2017 Leadfoot title in.

His smooth and ultimately swift driving style won McRae more admirers and left smiles on the faces of the Vantage team that meticulously prepared the car, especially chief executive Craig Vincent, who co-drove for Bourne from 1996 to 2001.

Catherine Pattison