BEING a central figure in the successful reinstatement of New Zealand as a stop on this year’s World Rally calendar has put Peter ‘PJ’ Johnston in the winner’s seat with Kiwi motoring commentators.

Well-known and highly regarded in business and motorsport, notably in his involvement in furthering the careers of some title-winning world-class Kiwi drivers, the Aucklander has become the latest recipient of a prestigious prize presented by the New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild.

The Neil Nelson Award is presented to the person judged to have made a significant contribution to the motoring industry.

“The New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild is proud to name Peter as the 2022 recipient of this very special award,” says Guild president Richard Bosselman, Palmerston North.

“The Neil Nelson Award is not just about achievement. It’s about going that extra mile. To be nominated it’s not enough to just do your job or your calling – it requires passion and commitment above and beyond.”

In his capacity as Rally New Zealand chairman, Peter Johnston and his team had demonstrated just that and more in realising the return, on September 29-October 2, of the World Rally Championship to New Zealand for the first time since 2012 and in an effort to secure the four-day event a biennial place on the competition’s calendar. 

Said Bosselman: “They worked tirelessly, including during this year’s Repco Rally New Zealand.

“During the very moments when the world’s best rally teams were taking on the world’s best rally roads here in New Zealand, they were working to convince WRC Promoter and stakeholders to bring the event back in 2024.”

In accepting the award, Johnston made clear it was a team effort. “We had a powerful, wonderful team of volunteers who were driven by their passion for this event.”

Said Bosselman: “Kiwi interest in the event was massive; the challenging weather for much of the event did not dissuade them from heading into the country and, specifically, to Jack’s Ridge in their thousands.

“The WRC television broadcast was seen by more than 70 million viewers globally and, of course, the crews were effusive in their praise of the roads, the scenery and the hospitality.

“WRC has deep roots here and the 2022 rally reminded us how special this event is for our country.”

Another strong positive from the rally came from how it embraced technologies that Kiwi motorists were keen to uptake into their daily lives.

“As Peter has noted, this was the first FIA World Championship motorsport event to be held in New Zealand featuring hybrid electric vehicles and using fully sustainable fuel; a new age of motorsport,” said Bosselman.

“It also provided a global showcase for the ground-breaking fully electric rally car developed by our biggest international name, the supremely talented Hayden Paddon.”

The Guild admired that the return of international rallying had a deeply personal connection for Johnston, as in 1969 his father, Reg, drove in the inaugural Rally of New Zealand, finishing ninth.

Johnston’s adult involvement in motorsport has been diverse. He headed the team that helped launch Scott Dixon’s career in the United States, where he is now a legend of the NTT IndyCar Series. He also backed Brendon Hartley through Formula One and into Le Mans and world title-winning sports car racing programmes with Porsche and now Toyota.

The Guild’s award started in 1998, honours the memory of the late Neil Nelson of Palmerston North, a former president of the Guild.

Among the 10 previous recipients are ex-Formula One driver, the late Chris Amon, motor retail supremo Colin Giltrap, and V8 Supercar hero, Greg Murphy.

Feature Photo: New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild president Richard Bosselman and Peter ‘PJ’ Johnston, recipient of the Neil Nelson award for realising the return of the World Rally Championship to New Zealand this year. They are pictured with a 1970 Ford Escort RS1600, a car synonymous with early rallysport in NZ. (Photo: Ed Finn Amped PR)

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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 a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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