New Zealand's import racing scene isinsane. The small Pacific nation is, to most of the world, all about hobbits, warrior princesses dressed up in leather and 42 Below vodka. One look at the country's massive motorsport scene, and you'd think there was race fuel running in the veins of most of the four million people living in this country.
For starters, New Zealand is the home of drift hero Rhys Millen and his Pikes' Peak legend Dad Rod. That'd be enough, but it also hosts one of the most challenging rounds of the World Rally Championship and has a vast array of circuit racing competitions. But it's the Kiwi import scene that really gets the locals going-thanks in part to relaxed Japanese car import rules.
A quick drive around any New Zealand city and you'll see plenty of WRXs, Skylines, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions-and a large number of them have been into the tuning shop for a power-up and a makeover. Modified engines, super-lowsuspensions, and drainpipe exhausts are still very much legal-and the crazy Kiwis take it to the limit.
The country's annual NZ Performance Car 4 & Rotary Nationals, which has been running hot for a decade, is the ultimate showcase of this car tweaking habit. The event takes place over three days in the largest city, Auckland, with driversand posers from all over the country's two islands chasing glory on the show floor and at the track.
The first two days are all about slick body kits, wild paintwork, and finely detailed engine bays. If Xzibit was to take a stroll around the massive Greenlane Event Centre, the hip-hop maestro would feel like he'd just been pimped. Low frequency bass thumps through the venue like it's raining boulders, the standard army of lycra-clad car girls sashay their way amongst drooling show-goers and the glare from high-sheen paintjobs could easily blind the uninitiated. A huge selection of trophies is up for grabs, and the snaps you'll get from a successful trip to the "Nats" are second to none.
The 2006 event again proved to the motorshow mainstream that hot cars are cool-with over 20,000 people paying the modest entrance fee to have their senses well and truly bombarded. Alongside the main event the Car Stereo Champs and the Lowrider/Minitruck Nationals ensure that there's something sick for every taste. The stars of this year's show were undoubtedly Matt Sealy's superbly turned-out Mitsubishi Lancer GSR (which won the coveted 2004 God ofAutosalon title in another popular local show) and Baz Reid's stunning fourth generation Toyota Supra.
This event started as a celebration of the rotary engine, and you can always expect to see hard-tuned "rotangs", as they're known in New Zealand. There's a definite enthusiasm for the gas-guzzling Wankels, and this year saw cars like Nicola Cooper's beautifully restored RX-2 and Troy Smith's tubbed Mazda 1300 wagon with its Aussie-built 10-second engine attracting throngs of admirers. At the awards ceremony it was Gary Downs' immaculate RX-3 that won the trophy for Best RX although the coveted RX Master award went to the monster-quick RX-4 of David Venderhulst-complete with rare and powerful 20B engine.
From the show event, the import faithful headed to Champion Dragway-Auckland's only legal drag strip-for an all-night party before the high-octane racing began. Those who prefer a quiet Sunday in church were notably absent, but there were tens of thousands of race fans bowing to the gods of horsepower more than willing to take their place.
New Zealand's import drag cars have gotten progressively faster over the past four or five years. While there's only a couple of cars that are up to the level of large American pro teams, there are a lot of road-legal cars that run consistent seven to ten second passes-no Cali-style emissions here, fortunately. In this country there is definitely a substitute for cubic inches-if in doubt you just fit a turbocharger the size of your head and the magical 10-second run is within reach.
Pro Import Class cars are the real crowd pleasers, obviously, and nobody was disappointed-thanks to top dog Rod Harvey, who drove his stunning Datsun 1200 Coupe to a stellar victory. With the assistance of Rev Lubricants and American Scott Revell from Tactics Racing, the team's new SR20DET engine package allowed Harvey to be the first Kiwi Pro Import driver to lay down a 4-cylinder seven second pass with a mind-blowing 7.95 at 168mph.
Rod wasn't the only four cylinder driver to be knocking on seven's door-Andre Simon's 1,000-horsepower Mitsubishi Evo III, which recently belted out a personal best of 8.23 at a whopping 179 mph, also ran consistent low eights throughout the day. A couple of Aussie racers made the trip across the Tasman Sea for the event: Wayne Dyson, holder of the current world record for the fastest un-tubbed RX-3 and Damien McKern in his GRUMP RX-2 both stuck consistent eight and nine second passes.
The world's second-quickest Nissan Skyline GT-R was out of contention due to continued work on the development program, but arch-nemesis Glen Suckling (4th fastest) kept the six-cylinder fans happy, laying down several low-eight runs on the fast track. His day wasn't all roses though, with an out-of balance slick eventually being pinned down as the cause of a serious vibration that slowed his time attack.
As you can see, there's a lot more to New Zealand than just the Lord of the Rings-and let's face it, Hobbits can't even reach the pedals.