A couple of weekends ago was the Leadfoot Festival in New Zealand. For those who don't know, Leadfoot is a hillclimb up "The world's best driveway"; rally ace and Pikes Peak champion Rod Millen's one mile recreation of all the best bits of the many courses he's competed on.

Aside from the atmosphere and general coolness, the great pleasure of Leadfoot is the huge variety of vehicles and drivers the Millens invite to compete. The track itself is a real leveller - it's tightness favours small nimble machines, the steepness and windiness favours traction, and the open stretch at the beginning favours Powah!!! So anyone can win. Though Rod, with a massive home court advantage and a 900hp Pikes Peak monster up his sleeve, is always the favourite.

This year the Millens upped the ante by adding shifter carts and a bucket of drifters to the mix, but in exchange we missed out on the Formula 5000s and extreme offroaders we saw last time.

This time round I went to two of the three days: once just to watch and once to take photos. Worked much better than last year - I got some half-decent shots and still managed to see the action. So here's some of the photos. Starting with the carpark.

Advertisement

Preferential parking is offered to classic cars. Or at least in theory - in practice it's to cars which pass the parking marshalls' beady-eyed "cool check". Last year I qualified, in my Jag XJR. This year in a friend's Hyundai SUV, not so much :-(.

...although how a new Mini qualifies as cool in this company is beyond me.

Advertisement

Moving on to the competition....I think everyone was surprised at just how fast a shifter cart is. I know Millen was. He said at the prizegiving "I invited Daniel (Bray, NZ cart champion) because I thought he'd be a crowd-pleaser. After his first run I knew I was in trouble". At the end of the first day he had the best time.

Here he is drifting through the forest on his "top 10 shootout run", on his way to 2nd place overall. Bray wins the "stainless steel cojones" award this year, even more so than the guy on the superquad. One mistake and you're wrapped round a tree without a cage to protect you, and he was HUSTLING!

Advertisement

In the "slightly bigger than a cart" department, Auckland University put up a great effort, considering that going fast round the wigglies is only one among many design criteria in FSAE. They've done well this year, making the podium at the Australasian FSAE champs.

Advertisement

Drift cars, oddly enough, aren't fast. What they are, is fun. The Millens are obviously aware of that through son Rhys (who wasn't driving this year) and wheeled out a number of the better known locals to lay down some smoke.

Here's one showing us the route up the hill...

Advertisement

A few of the drifters tweaked their settings and went for speed runs during the course of the event, and laid down some halfway respectable times. It's hard to convince a drift car not to be tailly though...

The drift headliner was Mad Mike Whiddett, in his quad rotor RX7. Here's a vid of him on his way up the hill (the first 20 seconds are just the noise, which is as bonkers as the rest of the car).

...and here he is showboating on the way down...

Advertisement

And as an extra bonus: a demo of why it's not worth trying for a rear-on shot of a drift car:

Classic rally cars are a big part of the event, stemming from Rod's early motorsport interests. He was competing in this class himself in his RX3, as well as in the modern class in the Celica (perks of being the host; you get to run as many cars as you like).

Advertisement

I know Escorts are better in every definable way, but I've always liked Chevettes. Maybe because one at my first holiday job was the first RWD car I ever hooned drove, maybe it's just because slant 4s are quirky and the world needs more box flares.

Not that Escorts aren't cool: this Zakspeed one was easily the best sound of the day - even better than Mad Mike's rotary. I don't know what it is about BD motors, but the sound of one brapping through the forest towards me raises the hairs on the back of my neck every time.

Advertisement

This 2002tii has a hairdryer the size of the planet, and over 600hp. It's blazingly fast (I've seen it eating up M3s on a racetrack), and always seems surprisingly controlled for an early beemer, never mind one with that many herbs.

Advertisement

It contrasted nicely with a 71 Alpina, which has been rallied since new, is still more or less in vintage spec, and is still more than capable of proving that 3 wheels good.

..as is the Mk1 Cortina GT owned and piloted by the local Mayor. And now we know how Rod's been getting planning permission for this event....

Advertisement

Brett Lightfoot's little Austin A40 Farina was well suited to the tight track, and nicely slidey. He did very well in 2013, making the top 5 of the pre-75s, but this year wasn't so good for him.

Advertisement

It is unquestionable, in my world at least, that the best 911 is a rally 911. And Martini liveried rally 911s are the best rally 911s. Particularly when nose up under full throttle....

My favourite car of the event was this Ford Coupe, which the owner has been racing for 55 years. It's still running a flattie, 3 on the tree, and bench seats, and man, this sucker defines patina. Every ding, scrape, and paintbrush touchup tells a story. This is the car every rat rod in the world wants to be.

Advertisement

Advertisement

My second favourite is this aero-engined Riley special. I'm pretty sure I've raved about this one before. It runs a Tiger Moth engine, inverted and wetsumped, and a custom body (it started life as a Riley 9 sedan). The owner and builder restores vintage aircraft for a living, and it shows: every detail of this car is perfect and immaculate, and the period details are spot on, right down to cable brakes and twin magnetos.

Advertisement

My #3 favourite, and probably the biggest crowd favourite, is Ann Thomson's 1906 Darracq. This car has more provenance than possibly any race car in existence. It's the oldest surviving GP car, raced in the first GP race (1906 French GP), took the first ever chequered flag (1906 Vanderbilt Cup), and was Malcolm Campbell's first car called Bluebird. It made its way to NZ in the 30s, and was eventually split up. The story of finding and reassembling or recreating all the bits 70 years later is a saga of its own.

Plus, it has a 14 litre engine, two wheel brakes, is good for 100+mph, is road legal, and is driven by a little old lady who drives it like she stole it, and is well aware that with no power steering, throttle steer is the best steer. What's not to like?

Advertisement

And it was laying down times about 30 secs adrift of the top guys. Which sounds lousy till you figure out that a 100 year old car was going up this hill at 2/3 the speed of a Pikes Peak recordholding monster!

Also, note the family resemblance? The eyes are a little different, and he has more chin, but I strongly suspect that Ann is the Stig's mad old granny.

Advertisement

I'm not really a bike guy, but of the half-dozen or so running this year, this Moto Guzzi Le Mans Mk1 replica was the prettiest. A north-south V twin in a bike seems so wrong, but so right....

Advertisement

The number of single seaters was also down this year, even aside from the missing F5000 rocketships. My favourite was a 58 Cooper Mk8 Formula 500. Now running a Hillman Imp motor, it'll apparently do a 13 second 1/4, which is going some for something that small.

However the reason it's my favourite isn't so much the car as the driver. Allan Woolf is in his 80s, and has been racing for over 60 years - including several Pikes Peak runs in Millen RX7s in the 80s. He looks like Elmer Fudd in his little cartoon car, but he's still giving it some jandal, and good on him.

Advertisement

Getting down to the business end of the competition, the top 10 shootouts yielded some seriously committed driving. Andrew Hawkeswood stepped into this tube-frame Mazda2 spec rally car for the first time yesterday, and was immediately laying down competitive times. Today he's shooting for a win. On the other hand his normal ride is an Audi Quattro S1 Group B replica, so the Mazda may be a little tame for him.

Advertisement

There were several Lotus 211s present. They're actually a bit dull to watch: fast, but so tidy. Only one made the top 10 though.

Less tidy was this Evo 8 derived hillclimb special. He'd been having a lot of trouble with the scenery this weekend, and was already sporting a good collection of 100mph tape before he lost his whole front clip somewhere on this final run. Didn't seem to slow him down much though...

Advertisement

Joe McAndrew, another stalwart of the local rallying scene, was once again wielding his Yamaha-powered Jeti kit car. At 300kg and 165hp, it's not slow, and its size makes it ideal for this track. Maybe this sideways moment cost him enough to miss the podium.

Advertisement

Richard Mason is the current NZ rally champion, and the winningest driver in its history. Despite that, he only made the third best time up the hill, at 49.67s. His Impreza was one of four or five present - NZ is and always will be Subaru country when it comes to rallying.

Daniel Bray, who I've already shown you fanging through the forest in his cart, was 1/2 second faster than Mason at 49.03.

Advertisement

Then it was all up to Rod. Who found a little more from somewhere and got himself to 48.65 - a full 2.3 seconds faster than his 2013 winning time!

Actually all of the top 10 cars were faster than the 2013 record. But everyone else but Millen had the excuse of increasing familiarity with the track. I have no idea where he pulled it from - maybe just that deep well of competitiveness that separates real racers from us mere mortals.

Advertisement

There's a great doco on Leadfoot on youtube, if you have an hour to spare.