Chasin' Aces at 2016 Leadfoot Festival
New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula might not be famed as a motorsport venue, but Rod and Shelly Millen’s annual Leadfoot Festival is putting it on the map. Held on a purpose-built hill climb course at the couple’s 150-acre Leadfoot Ranch, the two-day festival of noise, fossil fuels and tortured tires is pulling in big-name drivers and iconic machinery from all over the world—and it’s growing every year. Not bad for an event which started as a Goodwood Festival of Speed-inspired 60th birthday party. It’s one to watch.
Aiming to keep his Dad from the top spot, Rhys Millen shipped his 585bhp Red Bull Global Rallycross Hyundai Veloster Turbo to Leadfoot Ranch. Four-wheel drive and explosive acceleration turned out to be a good match for the undulating course, taking first place in the Top Ten Shootout at 49.31 seconds. “The car doesn’t have a lot of power, but it uses every inch of what it has,” he said.
Three-time Pikes Peak record holder and eight-time winner Paul Dallenbach claimed to be holding back to avoid damaging his car ahead of this year’s trip to Colorado, not that you could tell. Low altitude meant it could use all of its 900bhp, setting times low enough to put it in the Top Ten, had Paul not left early. Having set the Open Wheel record at Pikes Peak last year, it’s being reworked for the Unlimited class in 2016, aiming to edge under the nine-minute mark.
Rod Millen unleashed his Pikes Peak Unlimited Class Toyota Celica on Leadfoot Ranch. It’s the same car that set a record 10:04:06 time in 1994, unchallenged for 13 years and only beaten once most of the course had been paved. But, despite being unconvinced by son Rhys’s chances at the top spot, the Celica finished fourth. (Photo Credit: Mark Christensen)
Formula Drift driver Mad Mike Whiddett had a challenging weekend on his home turf. MADBUL, his Nitto-sponsored 537bhp quad-rotor RX-7, blew its spare diff on the second practice session, bringing an early end to his weekend despite a promising start.
It’s all about who you know. Rod Millen’s reputation and contacts means Leadfoot Festival has an even more impressive line-up of hand-picked drivers each year. Drivers including his son Rhys, multiple record-holder and Top Gear USA presenter Tanner Foust and New Zealand-born IndyCar racer Scott Dixon.
Leadfoot’s laid-back atmosphere, with period fancy dress, on-site glamping and good views of the action make it hard to beat as a spectator. The one-mile course, inspired by sections of Rod’s favorite tracks, is so varied in terms of corners, speeds and surfaces that it gives an almost level playing field for a huge variety of racecars. Times can be close, and weather changes can quickly flip the results on their head.
It’s 20 years since Colin McRae dominated the World Rally Championship at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza. His brother, Alister, proved it’s still hard to beat, bringing Vantage Motorsport’s car over the line in second place, only 0.31-seconds behind Rhys Millen’s Hyundai. Once hillclimbed by the late Possum Bourne, and still maintained by his team, the 750bhp two-door is the same car that won the 2015 Race to the Sky hillclimb by almost seven seconds, with Alister driving.
Scott Dixon was tasked with wrestling this 1906 Darracq up the hill. A team car for the first Le Mans Grand Prix, and later owned and raced as ‘Bluebird’ by the Malcolm Campbell, the 14.25-liter Goliath was unlike anything he’d driven before. “It’s got tons of torque, it’s very heavy, there’s no power steering and it’s hard to move it around— but it’s a great car,” Scott told us. (Photo Credit: Mark Christensen)
Despite the wet weather, which cut grip and meant less rubber was being left on the tarmac, this year’s Festival ended with only 2.5-seconds separating the quickest five cars in the Top Ten Shootout. It goes to show that, even when drivers claim to be taking it easy, a competitive streak is hard to shake off.
A big car on a narrow course, Tanner Foust’s Formula Drift Volkswagen Passat wasn’t chasing records, but that unmistakable engine note had no problems drawing crowds. Packing a nitrous-boosted 450ci V8 putting 900bhp through the rear wheels, the sedan managed a respectable 57.87-second run. Tanner has his sights set on the Top Ten next time, with plans to bring a rallycross car as well as the Passat.