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McRae and others primed for the ultimate Race to the Sky

A lovely piece of road; “a real driver’s road” is how star rally driver Alister McRae describes the Repco Race to the Sky course prior to this weekend’s return of the iconic hillclimb event.

McRae is one of 108 competitors contesting the resurrected Cardrona Valley hillclimb, all of whom spent Friday making reconnaissance runs of the 14.5 km course.

McRae is competing in Race to the Sky for the first time and pilots the Vantage Subaru world rally car that the late Possum Bourne used to win the event in 2001.

“I did have a look at it [the course] from in-car footage from previous years, but I think the condition of the road this year is very good,” says McRae who, as a former Subaru team-mate of Bourne’s, appreciates just how special this car is to Kiwi motorsport fans. “The road is probably wider in places than it looked. I’ve driven plenty of world rally cars, but never one with the horsepower that this has got, so you’ve got to feel your way in a bit, but you also want to be putting good times in to see where you are [against the others]. The final run on Sunday is the one when you want to get it up there as quickly as possible; that’s the one that counts. I think it’s just trying to remember the bad parts and not mix them up with the very fast parts, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Steve Riley, one of three Australian drivers competing in the unlimited category against McRae and eight-time Race to the Sky King of the Mountain champion Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima, is excited to be back.

“The Race to the Sky is really wonderful event. It combines so many different parts of engineering. It’s a ‘run what you’ve brung’ sort of race with no regulations. So you can be a farmer like myself who built something in the shed or a Formula 1 expert with 28 technicians. It’s encompasses bikes, cars and quads – everyone gets a run here and at the end of the day, it’s the fastest guy who wins so there’s nothing fairer than that and it’s a great event to come and be part of.”

Riley’s assessment of the course is that it’s graded up well. “It’s fast and it’s smooth. It’s a bit wider than what I remember it. It’s going to really suit the aero-package sort of cars.”

Believed to be one of the youngest competitors to ever tackle the event is 14-year-old Jack Hawkeswood. Son of respected rally driver Andrew Hawkeswood, the St Peters’ Collage student has travelled to Race to the Sky with some of his father’s crew while Andrew competes in a national rally championship event in the North Island.

“We bought this car, a BSL Terra off-roader, about five weeks ago so it is quite new, but it’ll be alright,” says Hawkeswood who’s raced trophy kart off-roader category with considerable success. “I thought the course was looking fast and quite slick. The thing will be what the weather does over the weekend.”

Hundreds of fans have already purchased tickets for the return of 18 and 19 April hillclimb and thousands are expected at the Cardrona Valley event village over the weekend.

Melanie Kees, events manager for Highlands Motorsport Park which is bringing the Repco Race to the Sky back to life, says she’s been delighted with the support shown by local business and fans for the event’s return.

“So many people have got in behind the event and are pleased to see it return,” says Ms Kees. “With a full entry list and great support from fans, we’re all looking forward to a spectacular weekend of racing.”

The Repco Race to the Sky event village features great spectating areas, a big screen broadcasting in-car footage and interviews, family-friendly entertainment, food and refreshments. Tickets are available at the gate over the weekend. Full details about the event can be found on the website, or visit the Facebook page