Amberley’s Ian Ffitch will fire up his famed ‘super quad’ for this weekend’s Repco Race to the Sky when the international hillclimb race returns to the Cardrona Valley for the first time in eight years.
Ffitch is one of 32 drivers and riders from across the Canterbury region competing in what is now the world’s longest gravel hillclimb event.
“This time around, being a first-up event – while we’re hoping the event will now be around again for a few more years – we’re not running anything new,” says Ffitch of his customised, 1080 cc 2-Way Industries BRM quad bike. “We’re just running what we ran eight years ago and while I’m probably older, fatter and slower, I obviously still hope to be competitive against all types of machinery.”
Ffitch says Race to the Sky is such a unique event. “It’s the fact you can race against the clock, against your fellow quad competitors and also against unique and diverse machinery that’s been built specifically for the event, whether it’s a 850 hp car like Tony Quinn’s or whatever. You don’t know where you’re going to fall in the scheme of things – this year there could be five or so guys that can push me along in the quads.”
Ffitch contested nine of the event’s original 10 editions, winning the quad division in seven of those events and six times finishing in the top five overall. In 2004 he was the inaugural winner of the Possum Bourne Memorial Trophy for the fastest New Zealander, earning third place overall that year.
With the Race to the Sky last run eight years ago, Ffitch will be drawing on recent successes at Rod Millen’s Leadfoot Festival in Hahei. “The first year, I finished second behind Rod; the second year, I finished fifth and then this year I didn’t even make the top ten, yet I’d gone faster than I’d ever gone before so it just depends who else has entered and what they’re driving or riding. I haven’t ridden the quad on gravel for three years, but I am fiercely competitive and will give it my all. I’d like to think I’ll be around the top five but that could be way off, so we’ll just have to see.”
Ffitch is also looking forward to catching up with the many friends made during the event’s first decade when it was run by founder and former promoter Grant Aitken. “It’ll be good to see the Aussie guys; they’ll be quick in their buggies and you know Monster hasn’t come back to go up there any slower! Even though his new car is unproven, it could be spectacular! And Tony in his new car – everyone will be keen to see how the car and he goes.”
Race to the Sky was last held in 2007, and over the weekend of 18 and 19 April 2015, the event returns with a new management and promotion team from Cromwell’s Highlands Motorsport Park and the support of key sponsor Repco.
Following the sealing of America’s famed Pikes Peak international hillclimb route, the Repco Race to the Sky is now the longest gravel hillclimb in the world with competitors navigating the 14.5 km course around 135 corners and climbing from the Cardrona Valley floor at 450 above sea level to 1500 metres above sea level in the Pisa Range.
More than 100 competitors in cars, motorcycles, quads and off-roaders have entered – predominately Kiwis, the entry list also includes Japan’s eight-time Race to the Sky King of the Mountain champion Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima in his Super 86 hillclimb special and Perth-based Scotsman Alister McRae in the Vantage Subaru WRC once raced in this event by Kiwi rally legend Possum Bourne. Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn debuts his brand-new PACE Innovations Repco RTTS Extreme 4WD hillclimb car and the event has also attracted Red Bull-backed extreme enduro rider Chris Birch on a KTM 1190 Adventure R and Whangarei’s ‘Rocket’ Ron Kirkman, one of the few to have contested all ten earlier Race to the Sky events and returns for the Repco-backed edition even though he’s now in his late 70s.
The Repco Race to the Sky event village features great spectating areas, a big screen broadcasting in-car footage and interviews, family-friendly entertainment, food and refreshments. Tickets are available online Ticket Direct – simply search for Highlands – or from the Highlands Motorsport Park offices until 5pm Friday or at the gate over the weekend.