Saturday, 23 February 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Leadfoot Festival - an event catering for all ages and interests

This coming Saturday and Sunday, the annual Leadfoot Festival will take place at Leadfoot Ranch, the 150-acre oceanfront estate outside Hahei owned by former motor champion, Rod Millen, and his wife, Shelly.

The idyllic setting makes the weekend a one-of-a-kind event on the New Zealand and international motor racing calendar. One of the festival’s main points of difference is the unique mix of the old and the new in action, including classic formula cars, off-road machines, drift cars, vintage motorcycles and rally cars, along with the presence of past and present motorsport legends. 

Leadfoot Ranch features a mile-long “racetrack driveway” specifically designed by Rod, winding through the property from bottom to top and is considered by many to be the perfect hill climb. Over the years the Leadfoot Festival has become known as an internationally-recognised hill climb event.

This year more than 150 drivers will have several opportunities to go as fast as they can up the racetrack driveway.

The general public will, as in previous years, get free access to the pit area, where they can get up close to both drivers and machinery. It is an event specifically designed to cater for all ages and interests. To complete the picturesque surroundings, a collection of static celebrated vintage cars and bikes will line areas of the paddocks and no doubt bring back many “I remember when” moments for many.

One of the headline entries this year is the 2018 Bentley Bantayga driven by Rhys Millen, Rod’s son. Like his father, Rhys has had a long and successful motorsport career which includes performance stunt driving, earning a world champion title in drifting and multiple victories in rally and rallycross. Last year he set a new production sport utility record at the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado driving the Bentley Bentayga. This freakishly-fast vehicle was originally marketed as an ultra-luxury all-wheel drive SUV. It is powered by a massive bi-turbo 600bhp (447 kW) W12 engine and has been extensively modified to handle the challenges of hill climbing.

Scotsman Alister McRae will be back this year to defend his “King of Millen’s Mountain” title, driving the same 1998 Vantage Motorsport Subaru WRX Impreza which took him to victory last year. The McRae surname has been synonymous with the sharp end of rallying for over three decades. The car carries some history as well, being driven successfully by the late Possum Bourne in the early 2000s.

The Leadfoot Festival would not be quite the same without Rod Millen and his 1994 Pikes Peak World Record 2.1 litre turbo-charged Toyota Celica in the starting line-up. Rod developed a reputation as a leader in rally driving in New Zealand in the 1970s, before moving to the United States in 1978 and turning his attention to off-road stadium racing. He went on to become the only driver to win three consecutive Grand National Sport Truck titles. During Rod’s distinguished racing career, he conquered the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb and also captured the record for the fastest ascent. The challenges of Pikes Peak became part of his and Shelly’s inspiration to create the Leadfoot Ranch racetrack driveway and the festival itself.

In recent years, drift cars have provided plenty of crowd entertainment for Leadfoot fans. It is all about style and burning lots of rubber rather than straight-out speed and there is none better on the world stage than Japanese-born and Los Angeles-based Ken Gushi and Kiwi Mad Mike Whiddett.  Ken will be driving his 2015 Toyota GT86 2JZ, while Mike will pilot his 2004 Badbul Mazda SP3 RX8. Mike was a finalist in 2017 for the New Zealander of the Year award for his outstanding work with a number of charities and his dedication to motorsport both in New Zealand and on an international level. 

Leigh Hopper will be competing in his 2004 Subaru STi C Spec RA. Leigh is a regular competitor in Targa events held mainly on closed public roads. He has gained a reputation for being more of a crowd pleaser rather than a winning driver at past Leadfoot Festivals, so he is sure to provide plenty of entertainment either way.  

Record crowds attended last year’s Leadfoot Festival and provided the weather behaves, another large turnout is expected this year.

Picture: The 2018 Bentley Bentayga Rhys Millen will be driving at this year’s Leadfoot Festival.

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