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Whitianga Festival of Speed 2010 another Roaring Success

by Paul Shanahan on 12 May 2010
The Big boat race - Whitianga Festival of Speed . ..

Whitianga turned on a fantastic weekend for the 2010 Festival of Speed as the town roared into life with spectacular displays of powerboats, cars, aircraft, off road vehicles, motor bikes and, believe it or not lawnmowers!

The weather couldn't have been better as crowds gathered around the town's many venues to witness the festival's spectacular racing and aerial displays.

The Festival began with an early Saturday morning 'wake up call' led by a parade of helicopters flying in formation behind a large orange coloured Beaver fixed wing aircraft. The helicopters circled the town before the big red and yellow Westpac Rescue Helicopter broke away from the formation and landed in the middle of a CBD car park. (Lee St car park) Its alighting passengers included Leigh Hopper and renowned Americas Cup yacht designer, Tom Schnackenberg.

The first event of the day was a celebrity go-cart slalom race between Thames Coromandel District Council Mayor, Philippa Barriball and Leigh Hopper, CEO of Hopper Developments Ltd. Leigh had the bit between his teeth and looked like a well rehearsed driver, but given his TARGA Rally history, it was to be expected. Philippa, nonetheless, put on a credible driving display.

The Mini Club then produced a series of entertaining driving skill displays, mostly involving dueling slalom events. Drift cars driven by Cole Armstrong and Karl Ruitterman followed with an incredibly skillful display of sliding, tyre squealing smoke hazed madness. Monster carts, electric go carts and breath stopping motorcycle stunts made up the balance. …. And that was only one of four major event locations.

Events were held in many parts of the town with a full program of aerobatic displays and helicopter stunts at the airfield, Street sprints from performance cars in the industrial part of town, Offshore Powerboats storming around Mercury Bay and jetskis and thundercats zooming around the beachfront.

Apart from stunning aerobatics provided by the Warbird's in Harvards, other aviation highlights included low flying displays by a Kittyhawk, Thunder Mustang and numerous aerobatic aircraft.

Late Saturday morning at the airfield, a 'crazy pilot' stole a car and was pursued the length of the airfield by a highway patrol car. The pilot made his escape by 'stealing' an aircraft and performing a series of heart stopping manouvres before losing power and executing a 'dead stick' landing. He was pounced on and cuffed by the waiting police officer. (Pilot: Phil Hooker)

On land within the Whitianga Waterways construction area, off road racers (ORANZ) conducted a full national meeting with a record number of entrants. The opportunity to race with such a large spectator crowd close to an established township was too good for competitors to turn down.

Adjacent to the off road course, jet sprint boats took full advantage of the canals under construction. An obstacle course made from large semi submerged tractor tyres proved to be a lot of fun as these V8 powered craft and smaller Predator jet sprint boats squirted themselves every which way at break neck speeds.

At the beach front, a novel race between Jet Skis and Thunder Cats was staged. Never seen before, but no doubt it will be repeated, riders had to tandem parachute from a DC3 aircraft, shed their chutes and race their respective craft around a course. Parachutists became crew for the water borne component.

Then the 'Big Boat Race' was all on. Crew had to undertake a Le Mans style beach start in Thunder cats, race their big boats and return to shore again in their awaiting Thunder cats. Local Rayglass 4000 Fine-A-Lee took line honours. The crowd was on their feet as returning crew sprinted and stumbled to the finish line. The inaugural Pacific Motor yacht trophy and jeroboam of Champagne was presented by Barry Thompson (PMY Editor) to the winning crew.

Later in the afternoon, on the outskirts of town, the speedway track came alive with the throaty roar and crashing metal sounds made by stock and demolition derby competitors. Again, a record crowd filled the terraces as these metal gladiators smashed and bashed their way around the oval track.

At one stage the beachfront was a mass of spectators, with an estimated 15,000 gathered to see the Offshore Powerboats roar around the bay, passing within 200 meters of the shore at speeds of up to 200 km per hour.

At the same time a further 15,000 were in other parts of the town watching the street car and off road racing and other events. By evening the town was buzzing, in anticipation of the 'Drag race' and 'Rolling Thunder' parade. Whitianga's cafes and bars overflowed with happy satisfied spectators.

Sunday dawned another perfect day and the waterfront crowd were treated to a thrilling demonstration race between World Champion Jet Ski racer, Sam Harvey and a Hughes 500 helicopter piloted by Phil Hooker.
The tight 300m course suited Sam Harvey's high performance Seadoo jet ski which powered its way to a clear win. Then the Thunder Cats came out to play with a thrilling race meeting.

Festival of Speed event major sponsor, Leigh Hopper and chief organizer, Paul Shanahan and said they were delighted with the number of people who had made the journey to Whitianga to watch the many events. Shanahan praised his support team led by Peter Abrahamson and Tracey Denize for their dedication and tireless work in attending to all the detailed planning which made the festival seem to run with apparent clockwork.

For more information contact

Event organizer: Paul Shanahan + 649 427 0299.

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