Motorsport New Zealand keeps racing on track amid COVID-19 chaos

Motorsport New Zealand has been praised for the work it has done to keep the sport afloat across the country.

With COVID-19 having put race meetings well and truly on the backburner, the organisation has set out to create a plan that would help the sport get back on track as quickly and as easily as possible.

'Back in Motion' is a literal explanation of what they were trying to achieve. Rubber-stamped by Sport NZ, the plan contained guidelines that would help clubs run events at Alert Level 2 and below.

After New Zealand had dropped into Level 2 for the first time, about 12 club meets were held the following weekend, proving the plan successful.

But Auckland's most recent Level 3 lockdown and subsequent move to Level 2.5 (and the smaller gatherings limit) meant their plan hit a bump in the road. 

Motorsport NZ went back to the drawingboard and tweaked its plan. The second iteration is now put in place and expected to stay with the sport moving forward.

Last weekend's North Island endurance series event (where the final round of the V8 Utes and Toyota 86 series also raced) was one of the first meets under the new version. More importantly, it was the biggest held since the overall plan had been rolled out.

Working with Hampton Downs and event organisers Speedworks, the race meeting was able to have two separate pods of 100 spectators. The sheer number of competitors meant each category had to be in their own bubble, and all standard Government social distancing and hygiene guidelines had to be followed.

The event was a welcome sight for acting Motorsport NZ chief executive Elton Goonan.

"I think we are going to go in and out of Level 2 over the next 6-8 months," Goonan tells Newshub. "So, this actually proves we can run events and we can run events successfully.

"It's now going to give us that flexibility that we know that we can actually run something and run an event under 2.5."

An important part of the 'Back in Motion' plan is a $200,000 support package from the governing body that provides discounts for clubs to run events and reduced fees for drivers. 

Driver participation has increased from 2019, which has meant a significant boost to its coffers.

"June was always a little dodgy, because everyone was hesitant," Goonan says. "But once we got into July and August, all of our club sport events have peaked - they're well over what we did this time last year.

"We're running slightly less events, but that means the clubs that are running them are actually running them better.

"And we're getting more competitors at those events, so it's been a real positive benefit."

Tracks have benefitted too.

Before COVID-19, Hampton Downs was meant to host a round of Supercars this year. Last Saturday, they held their first proper race meet since lockdown hit back in March.

"There are thousands of livelihoods dependent on the sport being able to go back racing and that's what today really is," Hampton Downs chief operating officer Josie Spillane tells Newshub.

"It really puts a stake in the ground and says, in a level two environment, we can race and we can do it safely.

"Motorsport, by its very nature, is physically distanced. The drivers are in the car, they're in their race sheds and they compete on the track with physical distance, we hope."

Not only has the 'Back in Motion' plan saved the sport, but it's expected to also lay the blueprint for other motorsports to follow.

"It's good just to get behind the wheel of a race car again," driver Chris van der Drift tells Newshub.

"I've been doing heaps of simulation the last few months and it's just not the same. It's good that they can pull it off, so people can get back to the track and burn off some steam."

They should be able to continue burning off that steam, as long as New Zealand stays at Alert Level 2 and below.