Opinion by Mike Stock
The Hamilton 400 street race has come and gone, the last V8 engine has roared in anger between the track’s concrete walls, and Hamiltonians are free to venture back into the northern section of town. The Hamilton 400 was the most-hyped motorsport event in New Zealand since the Wellington street race in the mid to late 1980s. Did it live up to that hype? In almost all respects, yes. The media room at a V8 Supercar race – certainly New Zealand V8 Supercar rounds – isn’t the easiest place form which to judge atmosphere. At Pukekohe we were in the jockeys’ room under the members’ grandstand and with no view of the race save on small television sets.
At Hamilton we were back under a grandstand – this time under the older stand at Waikato Stadium, the home of the Chiefs Super 14 team, again with no physical view of the track, though this time the televisions were Samsung wide-screen monitors. We’re not complaining here, just stating the facts. But on forays to interview drivers in the support race paddock, or to the V8 Supercar pit garages to talk to Kiwis racing in the main event, the crowd looked in fine spirits. There was plenty of good-natured Holden versus Ford banter, the Auto Trader grid girls were flying the flag for the magazine, and there was a general carnival atmosphere. V8 Supercar drivers almost universally sang the praises of the Hamilton racetrack, save a few grumbles about the tightness of the final obstacle – and the height of the kerbs – in the back straight chicane. Cynics might have suggested the drivers sounded like they were singing from the same hymn book, reading from the same memorised wordsheet.
But there was a genuineness in their responses that couldn’t be denied; even Russell Ingall, The Enforcer, who had suggested – against a howl of protest that he was wrong – that there would likely be a lot of crashing (there was a fair bit, though it probably it wasn’t quite as bad as some had feared) said after driving and racing on the track that he liked it. The crowds that flocked into the venue – put in the 50,000-plus bracket on the first two days, 60,000 on Sunday – loved it.
My old mate Bernard Carpinter of Dominion Post and Sunday Star Times fame found himself doing something a senior journalist seldom ever does and something he hadn’t done in years. In the absence of a general reporter, the Star Times had asked him to do a vox-pop, get opinions from spectators. To a man woman and child, they answered the same, and no-one could suggest they were reciting a pre-learned text. Though some put it in words that no self-respecting family newspaper would ever print, they said it was, for want of a better phrase, absolutely awesome. Drivers had some minor criticisms – the final kerb of the chicane, a need for some easing of corners here and there; some fans on the higher sections of the massive grandstands on pit straight said they couldn’t even see the pits or the cars from their seats; there was carping that on TV the light industrial buildings of Frankton didn’t make for a salubrious background to the action, though those critics conceded the aerial shots of the cars in the tree-lined section of the track were great. Overall, to use the paraphrase of Carpinter’s vox-pop, the whole event had been absolutely awesome. This year was great, said drivers and fans alike, an amazing first effort that outshone many established events; and next year could only be better.
Well done, Hamilton.