It was an invitation that could not be refused. Go to Taupo Racetrack, hoon around, drive home. For those who have never done it, there is absolutely no experience that compares with taking your car on to the track with no speed limits and no traffic coming the other way. Cows, dogs, possums, children, senior citizens…there are no hazards other than your own right foot getting carried away.

alfa-track-day

While the event is hosted every year by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (AROC), this year other clubs were invited along. I went along both as a representative of drivelife.co.nz and also to give my ’65 Sunbeam Tiger V8 a good run without worrying about getting a speeding ticket.

While the day opened with heavy fog – delaying the opening of any racing until about 10.30 – the fog lifted enough to allow the organisers to open the track. Three classes were run – Novice, Road Cars and Race Cars. For the Novice Class (which I went in – I’d never been on this track) each driver was given a coach to go around them for the first run to get some advice on where to take corners, and where to brake and change gear etc. What a difference that made – I felt like I improved every lap with the coach beside me, and even after that first run when I went out on my own, I could still hear his advice in my head. Well done, AROC.

A bit of fog to start the day
A bit of fog to start the day

I’m happy to report I kept my right foot generally under control and neither spun nor totally lost control. Sure, there was a bit of tail sliding and too many times when I spun the rear wheels under acceleration, but on the whole I think I managed to do pretty well, except getting blasted past every run by an M3 CSL BMW. No chance of giving that guy a run.

No show of catching this M3 but boy I had fun trying...
No show of catching this M3 but boy I had fun trying…

As you can imagine, there was some pretty tasty machinery there on the day. Many drivers and spectators were just wondering about drooling, as was I. Some stunningly presented Alfa Romeo race cars were great to look at, great to hear and fantastic to watch. These guys (and girls – there were plenty of lady race drivers) did not muck about on the track and there were lots of duels going on every time they went out.

alfa-track-day

Organiser of the even, Gordon Linton, says they had 52 entrants registered, while normally the number is in the 40s. “The event is held yearly, and this our 3rd year,” says Gordon. “It’s a low-key event designed to get people who aren’t normally on the track, on to the track. Of course it’s a great chance for our seasonal race drivers to be prepping for next race season too.”

If this is a yearly event, then I better start booking my weekend away for next year. It will take a herd of wild horses to keep me away.

 

Terry Leighton

lotus-elise

“My car is a 2003 Lotus Elise, Series 2. I’ve had it for 8 years now – really it’s just an oversized go kart,” Terry says. Why race? “An old guy like me needs a toy to get the adrenalin flowing, and the Elise does that. I’ve made some engine mods to make it go faster; new cylinder head, a port and polish, a high-lift cam, bigger valves, a free flow exhaust.” It’s made quite a difference Terry mentions, and it revs much more freely. I expect this Lotus puts out some serious horsepower.

Factory standard on the inside, the Elise has no carpets or other sound-deadening. “Yes it’s noisy on the road with no carpet and it doesn’t help that the engine is 6 inches behind your head. But that’s part of the attraction. You don’t buy an Elise for luxury.”

Terry isn’t a stranger to the track, and even though he’s approaching 70 he gets out about 7 times a year to the track, visiting Manfeild, Taupo, Hampton Downs.

What is about getting on the track Terry likes? “I just enjoy it – it’s a rush. It takes 40 years off your age,” he answers. I have to agree with Terry on that – it’s a rush that can’t be beat.

 

Peter Domet

alfa-gtv

“I’ve been in the Alfa Club since 1999,” Peter says. “I used to race Formula V but Alfas are my favourite. I’m over 70 now, and while I feel a bit older to be getting up at 5am to come from Tauranga, I still enjoy it.”

What keeps him coming back every year? “It’s the guys in this club. They are a really good group to race with and they are gentlemen on the track. That’s important to me.”

Peter says his GTV has its moments, but right now it’s going well. “I’ve just put in a new gearbox,” Peter says, “And I’m here to shake it down. I don’t work in the car – I have no mechanical knowledge at all – so for any major work it’s off to the shop where I have a good mechanic.”

Peter’s daily driver is an Alfa 156, had he’s had Alfas for some time – he is certainly not looking to other brands. “I love the Alfas; they are a driver’s car, they sound good, handle well, and are a great track car.”

 

Mike Cochrane

jaguar-xkr

Mike has brought his 1999 Supercharged Jaguar XKR, with about 400HP, to the track. “This is my seventh Jaguar,” Mike says. “My first was a 1948 1.5-litre, then a 1937 3-Litre DHC, followed by a MK1, a MK7M, an XJR, then an XK8.”

I asked Mike why he came to the track day. “I can’t drive the XKR on the road to its potential, there’s just no way to do that. I guess I’m here as well just to learn how to drive better.”

Has his XKR performed to his expectations on the track today? “It has been absolutely brilliant, with the computerised suspension it sits really flat on those tight bends.”

Does he think he will come back? “Definitely. To learn how to go around corners fast and smooth is a great help. Not only on the track, but on the road as well.”

 

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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