Once a year, the sleepy seaside settlement of Hahei has its tranquility shattered by the roar of screaming engines and smoking tyres (music to our ears).
The Leadfoot Festival is our kind of car show, one where the cars get shown, then thrashed (and occasionally crashed) in order to nab their driver the title of King of the Hill. The cars that take part vary immensely in heritage and worth – some of them are literally priceless and irreplaceable – but that doesn’t stop their owners driving them the way they were meant to be, flat out. And that makes us happy.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick recap of the Festival: first run in 2011, the event was a private one to celebrate Rod Millen’s 60th birthday. After being persuaded by the public, businesses of Hahei and various motorsport groups, the Millens generously opened up the event to the public and turned it into what is now an annual spectacle.
Rod’s infamous driveway surely ranks as one of the most exciting in the world nowadays. Inspired by a visit to another pretty well known driveway located in Goodwood, Millen set about creating the ultimate hillclimb in his own backyard. The 1.6 kilometre course is flanked with banks and trees and boasts yumps, bumps, gnarly switchback bends, elevation changes and the odd drop off and culvert just to keep things interesting. The venue is continually evolving and adding to the American-themed ranch this year was a new ‘Homestead’ with a rooftop viewing platform and log cabin which housed the Leadfoot merchandise.
Now in its eighth year, Leadfoot again attracted a number of local and international race drivers including our own Scott Dixon, rally ace Alister McRae, professional tyre-shredder and fun-haver, Vaughan Gitten Jnr, motorcycle stunt monkey, Dave McKenna, and the man himself, Rod Millen. The competitors are curated by Rod and are a diverse bunch. Among the vehicles racing this year was a Hayabusa-powered Toyota Starlet (best use for a motorcycle engine if you ask me), Freightliner Supertruck, a handful of dedicated hillclimbers and even a 1939 Auto Union replica powered by a 750hp V12 liberated from a British tank!
Despite recording its best ever attendance this year, the event still feels exclusive and has a charm about it unmatched by any other local motorsport meet. Marshalls, competitors and event staff are required to dress in period style clothing (attendees are encouraged to do so too, but not many do). Safety barriers consist of tape, and objects that look suspiciously like hay bales and there are no big screens. So just like the good old days then. For the spectators, the viewpoints are almost unlimited, and mostly superb, with very few areas off limits to the public. By far the best way to view the action is to wander around and take in the many aspects of the course. The pits are another area worth mooching around in with all the competitors housed side-by-side in marquees. Visitors are encouraged to wander around the cars and many of the drivers seem happy to have a yarn or pose for a selfie.
The event is still small enough that it hasn’t been spoilt by becoming commercialised. There are some car manufacturers onsite displaying their hottest/latest models and a few tuning companies and the like peddling their wares, but it’s a far cry from an event like the Supercars, and all the better for it. It’s family friendly and punters are encouraged to bring picnic blankets, umbrellas and chairs but no food or drink. Not to worry though as there’s a huge range of tasty grub on offer, and it’s not your typical racetrack fodder either; think dumplings, ribs and seafood, all of which can be washed down with a vino or craft beer. Nice.
We were shouted a VIP pass by the good buggers at Link ECU (purveyors of fine NZ designed and developed ECUs). Sited on top of the hill, the Repco Mountain marquee provides fantastic views of the first half of the track from the comfort of a shady picnic spot. Food and some refreshments were provided as part of the deal, but given the quality of the tucker on offer elsewhere around the event we felt the VIP offerings were fairly lacklustre. Overall we found the VIP experience a little ho-hum for the premium it commanded – three times the price of a GA ticket – and recommend you think twice before handing over your hard-earned. The extra $140 would go a hell of a long way at the onsite food and drink stalls, with probably enough cash left over for a souvenir T-shirt.
But it was the racing we attended for, and that did not disappoint. With the title of Leadfoot champ on the line, there were plenty of thrills and spills as competitors fought to set the fastest time. Local rally champ Andrew Hawkeswood is always entertaining as he thrashes the pants off his AP4 Mazda2 rally racer, as is Fanga Dan in his custom drift Mustang. But the highlight has to be watching Rod maul his Pikes Peak-mauling ‘Sell-i-ca’ up the hill. While Rod couldn’t quite match his own record (a low 48sec), or take out top honours (that went to McRae again – 49.15sec), the sight and sound of this near 900hp monster pummeling the track into submission is enough to give you goosebumps. If you’ve not been to Leadfoot, do yourself a favour and mark February 2-3, 2019 in your diary; you won’t be disappointed.