Australia is very good at claiming successful Kiwis as one of their own. Glenn Macneall provides the opportunity to reverse the trend
Macneall co-drives for Chris Atkinson in the Subaru World Rally Team. Born and brought up in Perth, Western Australia, Macneall moved to Dunedin several years ago to be with his girl friend, Emma Gilmour, who is also competing in the Rally of New Zealand this weekend.
He's not rolling his "r's" like fair dinkum southern men, in fact there is still a definite Australian accent, but when he is not living out of a suit case attending the 16 rounds of the World Rally Championship each year, Macneall calls the Edinburgh of the southern hemisphere home.
His laid-back attitude and dry sense of humour are typically Kiwi or Australian.
'The culture is very similar to Australia, although it is obviously much colder,' says Macneall about his South Island base. Not that he minds too much, though. 'It's got some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It's very relaxed and the quality of life is very good. Australia will always be my first home, but New Zealand's not such a bad place to be.'
Macneall certainly proved his dedication to the cause earlier this year while the WRC was having a break at the height of the northern hemisphere summer. He returned to an Otago winter and supported Gilmour at a couple of rounds of the New Zealand championship in which she finished fourth overall.
Glenn was born and raised in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, the home of the Australian round of the WRC. His father Peter was a successful co-driver in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s and Macneall attended his first-ever rally when he was just two months old.
Finally, aged 16, he was given a chance to step into a rally car himself. Still too young to get a competition driving licence, he could however compete as a co-driver. The young Glenn leaped at the chance to take part in a number of Western Australian rallies.
So much so that Glenn left behind his university studies to follow his co-driver dreams. Glenn remembers his parents weren't quite so enthusiastic at his choice to go rallying over going to an office. "They asked me if I was sure this is what I wanted to do. When I said yes, they just said yeah right, now go and get a real job!" Glenn wasn't to be put off, however, and he made his debut at a round of the Australian Championship.
Two seasons later however, Glenn was really set to make his mark on the world of rallying when he teamed up with rising star Leigh Hynes in the 1992 Daihatsu one-make championship. The partnership at the time was very strong and their performances in a Charade GT earned a works drive with Daihatsu for the following two seasons. In 1993 Glenn and Leigh made their WRC debut, predictably in the Australian round. Amazingly, they won the Group N class at their first attempt.
In 1995 the pair looked beyond Australia for more experience and went to the UK to drive a Group N Ford Sierra on three rounds of the British Championship. At the same time they contested rounds of the Asia-Pacific series with an F2 Honda Civic. Despite a second place finish overall in Asia, the partnership did not endure.
Glenn then netted a works seat in the Hyundai Australia team and contested the 1996 Asia-Pacific Championship. This time he was to be with five-time Australian champion Greg Carr in an F2 Excel.
Just a couple of years later Glenn was to sign a deal that would be a long-standing point in his career. He signed with Subaru in the Australian championship, co-driving for Christchurch's Greg Graham in a Group N Impreza supported by Subaru Australia. After a closely fought battle the pair came within four seconds of winning the series on their first attempt.
That same year Glenn co-drove Japanese driver Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima in a Suzuki Baleno to the first of two Asia-Pacific Championship F2 class victories.
It was in the following year of the ARC that Glenn first met young Australian privateer, Dean Herridge, who was driving a Hyundai Coupe. The pair struck up a friendship and Dean asked Glenn if he could co-drive for him in selected rounds of the Australian championship. "We got on well," says Glenn. "He was another very talented driver, so far in my career I've had a lot of opportunity to work with good drivers, I've been lucky, but I've also wanted to do well too. I didn't want to stand still, I wanted to win."
Glenn's determination and skill marked him out from the crowd and he was constantly in demand as a co-driver. In 1999 he entered three WRC rounds in New Zealand, Australia and China with Shigeuki Konishi in a Group N Subaru Impreza and in 2000 he co-drove for three different drivers in two different series; Konishi and Waiuku's 'Stumpy' Holmes in the WRC and Herridge in the Australian series. "It was a busy time, but you always have to look for ways to get more experience, to be faster and to improve. I just did as much as I could physically do."
Another year, another team and for the 2001 season Glenn began working once more with Subaru. He teamed up with the experienced Japanese driver Toshi Arai for a factory-supported WRC programme with the Subaru World Rally Team, but results were not forthcoming. Fourth in Cyprus was the highlight of the year and, unfortunately for Glenn, the pair's contract was not renewed for the 2002 season. Glenn went back to Australia for the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons to partner Dean Herridge as a member of Subaru Rally Team Australia.
Glenn's WRC career did not entirely ground to a halt in this period as he still contested every Rally Australia, coming second in the Group N class with Herridge in 2003. Glenn also hopped over to New Zealand on occasion to enter the NZ round of the WRC. "I did the rally with Emma - it was a lot of fun to do it, but I don't know whether we could work that closely together all the time!"
Glenn's long relationship with Subaru was to take another twist the following year when young Australian charger Chris Atkinson came to the fore. "Chris was semi-supported by Subaru Australia. He had his own privateer outfit, which is how we got to know each other. He asked me to co-drive for him at some rounds of the Asia-Pacific series, which is how we got started."
The pair first competed in China, although the start of their relationship was not quite as successful as they would have hoped. "Chris had food poisoning and actually went to hospital the night before the event started and they rolled on the first day. Hardly an auspicious beginning.
Glenn was now faced with a very difficult decision; whether to co-drive for Herridge or for Atkinson. The decision was made when the pair crossed the finish line of the 2004 Rally Australia in fifth overall position in a Group N car - the highest classification of a Group N car in the event's history.
Chris and Glenn had come to the attention of the Subaru World Rally Team and in 2005 they made their works debut at the Swedish Rally.
The pair made a stunning impact on the championship. A confident debut in Sweden, the first-ever snow rally for Chris, and stage wins in New Zealand exceeded everyone's expectations and set the bar very high for subsequent rounds. "We achieved so much very early so everyone started asking when we were going to get a podium, when we were going to win, it all got a bit out of control."
A combination of the team and Glenn's experience helped to temper Chris' exuberance. "The team was exceptional and gave him a lot of information to process. He matured a lot and the results started to come. We sat down together, looked at the stage times, the end results and how we'd improve. We focused on how we could get better and, by the end of the season, we did."
One of the high points of the 2005 season came in Japan, the duo's first WRC podium. "Japan was a great rally. We set fastest times and showed that we could be a lot more mature in our approach and not just go flat out."
For Glenn, the ultimate high of the season came at the final round in Australia. The pair traded fastest stage times with the top three crews and were genuinely fighting for the lead until a bent steering arm dropped them out of the top ten. Undeterred, they put together a spirited challenge and missed out on a podium by just under 10 seconds.
In 2006 the partnership has developed onto a new level, with many in the WRC community rating them as one of the best. Glenn still relishes the challenge of going rallying, "I still really enjoy rallies. Whenever I think that the travelling is getting a bit much, I just keep thinking about this. I love what I do."