New Zealand's annual car of the year award is undergoing a major shake-up, some 25 years after it was inaugurated by the New Zealand Motoring Writers Guild.
Since its inception, the award has remained the jealously guarded "property" of the guild, which is the professional body for those who write about cars for a job.
Under the new arrangement, the guild is joining forces with the Automobile Association to make a joint award.
The actual process for selecting the overall car of the year does not alter much: a shortlist is selected by a car of the year committee (which now includes an AA representative), and the country's professional motoring writers vote to determine the winner.
However, a few things are changing: the winner will be announced in mid-December of the current year, rather than in January of the following year; utes as well as cars will now be eligible; and, in addition to an overall car of the year, there will be separate awards in a number of categories.
Another thing that is changing is that having served as chairman of the guild's car of the year committee for some years, I am taking the opportunity to step aside from that role.
There is no element of sour grapes about this. I have been involved in some of the groundwork for the new arrangements, and am delighted that the car of the year is taking off in this new and exciting direction.
Incidentally, Drivesouth will continue to have influence on the car of the year that extends beyond mere participation in the voting process. That is because regular Drivesouth contributor Richard Bosselman, who is a fearless advocate for what he believes to be fair and right, is staying on the committee that will see the country's premier motoring award into its new era.
The finalists for the 2012 award were recently announced and are listed in the Shortcuts column in today's Otago Daily Times.
To qualify for consideration, a vehicle must be a genuinely new model (as opposed to a mild facelift or new derivative of an existing model), and have been launched in New Zealand between October 1, 2011 and September 30, 2012. This last requirement is in place to ensure that guild members have the opportunity to test drive each contender in local conditions before casting their votes.
Changing tack completely, I felt gutted last Monday morning, when I awoke to news of Hayden Paddon's last-minute dramas in the French round of the World Rally Championship. I had become increasingly excited over the weekend as Paddon, who had driven superbly throughout, put himself right on course to regain the initiative in the S2000 component of the WRC. Now, thanks to the smallest of driving errors, his title hopes, along with those of co-driver John Kennard, have been dashed.
The cruel side of motor sport also showed itself to other New Zealanders over the weekend, at the Bathurst 1000, and I take little pleasure in having my prediction (in last Saturday's Drivesouth) that a Kiwi was unlikely to top the podium upheld.
As was the case for Paddon in France, Kiwi prospects shone brightly at Bathurst for a time, most notably through the sterling efforts of Shane van Gisbergen and John McIntyre. But the fortunes of both faded as the race progressed, and in the end the best-placed New Zealander was Scott McLaughlin, who partnered Jonathon Webb to sixth overall.
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