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Story: Motor sport

Midget racing at Western Springs Speedway, Auckland, 2010

Hundreds of thousands of spectators watch motor-sport events throughout New Zealand every year, from motorcycle, go-kart and stock-car racing to rallying and circuit events. Many New Zealanders have excelled in motor sport at an international level. One was Formula One driver Bruce McLaren, and the team he founded is one of the most successful in the 2000s, decades after his death in 1970.

Story by Jim Webber
Main image: Midget racing at Western Springs Speedway, Auckland, 2010

Story Summary

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Early motor sport

Cars were first imported into New Zealand in 1898. Quite soon after, in 1901, the first motor race was held in Christchurch. The Automobile Association (AA) started car clubs in New Zealand in 1903 and members often held races.

Grand Prix

The first New Zealand Grand Prix (a single-seater car race) was held at Ōhakea air base in Manawatū in 1950. From 1964 the New Zealand Grand Prix was raced under Formula One rules, which places specific restrictions on the cars, including the size of their engine. Several New Zealand drivers became international stars, including Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Denis Hulme. In 1963 McLaren (who died in 1970) formed his own racing team, which is still successful in the 2000s.

Since 2007 the New Zealand Grand Prix has been contested by specially designed Toyota cars.

Racing organisations

Many new car clubs were started after the Second World War, some for particular motor sports, and others for specific makes of car, such as Minis or Alfa Romeos. There are also clubs for owners of classic or vintage cars, and of four-wheel-drive vehicles. They often organise events for their members.

MotorSport New Zealand is the national governing body for motor sport in New Zealand, and is the umbrella organisation for other motor-sport clubs and organisations.

Racing circuits

In 2012 New Zealand had seven major motor-sport circuits, four in the North Island and three in the South Island. There were others for specific purposes, such as speedway and drag racing.

Production- and saloon-car racing

Production cars are cars produced by manufacturers without modification. Saloon cars are production cars with a closed body and a separate boot (as opposed to hatchbacks). Often saloon cars will be modified to make them better for racing.

Some production-car races are held on racing circuits, such as the 1970s Benson and Hedges 500-mile (later 1,000-kilometre) race at Pukekohe Raceway. Others have been held on closed-off streets, for example the 1985–96 Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington Street Race.

Long-distance rallies

Rallies are races over public roads, which are often closed. Some major New Zealand rallies are the Rally of New Zealand, Targa New Zealand rally and Silver Fern rally.

Speedway

Speedway races are usually held on an oval dirt track. Stock cars are the most common cars in speedway races. They are built to be strong as they often crash. Other speedway classes include sprint cars, which drive fast, and ministocks, for drivers under age 17.

Drag racing

In drag racing specially modified cars race (in pairs) for a set distance from a standing start. The first purpose-built drag-racing strip opened at Meremere, south of Auckland, in 1973.

Motorcycle racing

Motorcycles are raced on speedways, roads and city streets. Motocross races are held on enclosed off-road circuits. In the mid-1960s Burt Munro, from Invercargill, set three world speed records on his modified Indian motorcycle.

Kartsport

Karts, sometimes known as go-karts, are miniature vehicles with small engines. They are raced by children as well as adults.

How to cite this page:

Jim Webber, 'Motor sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/motor-sport (accessed 27 June 2017)

Story by Jim Webber, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 26 Apr 2016