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Features

Feature: The Kiwi domination

Why does New Zealand punch above its weight in motorsport? Issue #126 examines the reasons.

30 October 2022

New Zealanders have ruled the Repco Supercars Championship in recent seasons, only adding to the country’s remarkable success in motorsport across the world. SupercarXtra Magazine issue #126 looks at how New Zealand has punched above its weight in motorsport, and looks set to continue to upset bigger countries such as Australia.

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New Zealand ranks as the 75th ‘biggest’ country in terms of land mass and 121st for population size. Compare that to its Tasman neighbour, Australia, which is the sixth biggest country and 53rd for most people. And yet the “land of the long white cloud” has one of the most impressive records in international motorsport, rivalling and, in some ways, outmatching Australia.

New Zealand has accumulated one Formula 1 world championship; 12 Formula 1 grand prix wins, including two at the famed Monaco Grand Prix; seven victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours; six IndyCar Series championships; one win in the Indianapolis 500; four motorcycle grand prix championships; three World Endurance Championship drivers’ titles; a World Rally Championship round win; and, closer to home, after 2022, 19 Bathurst 1000 wins and 11 Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars titles.

In 2021 alone, Shane van Gisbergen won the Supercars championship (defending his title in 2022); André Heimgartner claimed his first Supercars victory; Marcus Armstrong and Liam Lawson scored race wins in Formula 2 (repeating the feat with multiple wins each in 2022), with the latter also runner-up in the DTM championship; Scott McLaughlin took rookie of the year honours in the IndyCar Series (adding race wins in 2022) and Indianapolis 500; Brendon Hartley finished runner-up in the Le Mans 24 Hours (going one better with victory in 2022); Mitch Evans was a championship contender in Formula E; and Jaxon Evans won a race in the International Porsche Supercup.

From the pioneering efforts of Formula 1 world champion Denny Hulme, long-time grand prix driver Chris Amon and legendary team founder Bruce McLaren in the 1960s to the international achievements of IndyCar great Scott Dixon and sportscar aces Earl Bamber and Hartley today, New Zealand well and truly punches above its weight in motorsport.

The only other country that can also claim New Zealand’s motorsport impact relative to its size is Finland, also with a population of just over five million. Finland has won four Formula 1 world championships and a remarkable 14 World Rally Championship titles, also owing its success to a strong motorsport landscape. But when it comes to wins across the breadth of international motorsport, New Zealand still comes out on top.

In the Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars, New Zealand-born drivers have won 11 championships since 1985. That’s more than a quarter of the titles awarded over the last three decades-plus. There’s also been five championships in a row for New Zealand drivers thanks to the domination of McLaughlin and van Gibsergen, leaving Jamie Whincup in 2017, who narrowly beat McLaughlin, as the last Australian champion of the Australian-based championship.

Since Jim Richards scored the first Bathurst 1000 win for New Zealand in 1978, New Zealand-born drivers have won the Great Race 19 times, including in six of the last 10 races.

Of the 82 drivers who have won a race in the Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars, 13 of them hail from New Zealand. And the rate at which New Zealand’s winning run is increasing over time is noteworthy. The number of first-time New Zealand winners in each decade reads: two in the 1980s, two in the 1990s, four in the 2000s, four in the 2010s and one so far in the 2020s.

So how has a country of only five million people, one fifth the population size of Australia, achieved so much success? Issue #126 examines how.

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