Winter has ended and it is finally Spring in New Zealand (NZ). That means fresh flowers, ducklings in the grass, blue skies and clouds. Man-made clouds. At Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park (BMMP) in Taupo, by drift cars!
The last time I went to BMMP was in 2016, over four years ago. You would think a lot has changed in that time, but the track still looks the same! The cars, however, had. Spring Matsuri is usually a two-day event over here in NZ, encompassing Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of a three-day weekend. I left Auckland at 7:00 am and started my journey down the country following State Highway One. It’s about a 3.5 hours drive from the centre of Auckland, not too far but also not that close.
I arrived at 10:30 am. To a circuit filled with spectator cars, trailers, drift cars, and tow cars. I had nearly forgotten what it is like to attend a rather big event. After parking my wagon and signing my life away, I put together my camera. A trusty Canon 5D Mark III with the infamous Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens. This camera + lens combo was my go-to in Japan, so I’d start off the weekend using it here in NZ too.
The pits were humming with all sorts of drift cars. I wasn’t too sure who would be driving and what kind of cars those drivers would be piloting. I was hoping to see some familiar faces driving Track 2 and Track 3 over the weekend.
BMMP is the only FIA Grade 2 rated motorsport circuit in the country. A quick Google search tells us that Grade 2 circuits can host cars with a weight/power ratio of 1 to 2 kg/hp. Whereas Grade 1, which hosts events like Formula 1, can host cars with less than 1 kg/hp ratio. I guess the main take-away point from this is that you can drive FAST here.
Track 2 (The National Circuit) was the place where all the intermediate and pro drivers were for the weekend. And Track 3 (The Club Circuit) was where all the beginners and some intermediate drivers were located. Track 2 had seven driftable corners with an average 4th or 3rd gear, while Track 3 had four driftable corners and a much slower 3rd and 2nd average gear. However, even though there are differences, both tracks proved to be entertaining to watch!
Let’s set the scene. It’s the middle of Spring. We are in a nearly Covid free country, little ol’ NZ. It’s low 20s, comfortable. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the green trees around BMMP really pull the whole image together. I had my camera, the cars were there, smoke was pouring. It was finally time to bring Ambition Works back to NZ and start producing that top-notch quality content we were famous for back in 2016.
I went straight to Track 2 when I arrived. Right to the corner before the front straight. This is pretty much a hairpin corner, just not as sharp. The result is an insane amount of tyre smoke would be pouring off the rear wheels of each car passing by.
Figure A. There is so much smoke that you can’t even what’s behind the corner. You wouldn’t believe it, but there is actually an airfield with a grass landing strip right next to this corner. You can even find warning signs littered around the place saying standing in a certain spot is dangerous and do so at your own risk.
Before the hairpin look-a-like corner. There are two other corners. A right-hander and a left-hander, slightly downhill, and usually taken with speed. At this point I started to realise that my 70-200 f2.8 lens wasn’t cutting it. So I added a 2x converter to increase the max focal length to 400mm. The higher this number is the more magnified a photo will be while retaining quality. This is not like a camera with digital zoom, where all it does is crop the photo to make it look magnified.
And of course, the 2x extender has some downsides. It let’s in a lot less light and the photos it takes are not as sharp as a lens using no extender. You definitely need to spray and pray while using a 2x extender and hope that at least one shot focuses correctly.
At this point in time, I was now in the middle of the track, panning cars drifting around the hairpin corner. My favourite thing to do while shooting cars is finding a corner like this where the car stays the same distance away from you the whole time. I then lower the shutter speed to a comfortable 1/30ths of a second and spray away.
When I get a photo in focus, these are the results. A heavily blurred background and a crisp in focus car with spinning wheels showing motion. By this time I had had enough of Track 2 and wanted to go to Track 3. Once I knew no cars were approaching, I scurried across the live circuit, hopped in my wagon, and drove along the gravel back road to get to the other side of the facilities where Track 3 is located.
Track 3, I would have to say, is my favourite track in NZ (That I have been to). It always seems to have the ‘small track day’ vibe to it. The pits are small, so everyone has to be huddled together. You can see the whole track from the spectator area which makes great viewing. There are big trees everywhere providing plenty of shade. And it’s a nice 3rd and 2nd gear track, not too fast.
The first corner is a sketchy left turn. You have an inner clip which is a concrete wall with tyres, and an outer clip of massive, I will destroy your car, tractor tyres. I haven’t driven this track myself yet, but I would assume the first corner is a quick 3rd gear entry. Handbrake, faint, manji, which ever way you like to start drifting.
Then comes the tricky bit. Changing down to 2nd is the first thing on your mind. Once you’ve done that it’s a quick double switch on a ditch. A very bumpy ditch. This is the most technical part of Track 3, so once you’ve got this it’s smooth sailing towards the front straight.
Another area where 1/30 second shots are easy peasy. I would say this corner is even better than Track 2’s hairpin corner. It makes for such clean, crisp photos. I don’t even have image stabilization on my 70-200. All it requires is a nice smooth pan while rotating your upper body, and keeping the focus point on the same part of the car for the whole corner.
Is that a number plate? Oh yes, it is! Just like Japan, sometimes people drive their legal drift cars on this track. Track 3 doesn’t require some safety standards that others do, so it’s much easier to drive road-legal cars here compared to other tracks around NZ.
Once you’ve seen me snapping away at you, there is only one more corner. Done either one of two ways. For the faster cars, it’s a change up to 3rd gear and turn right. For the slower ones, it’s a manji then a right turn, all in 2nd gear. Both are great, both work, it all depends on your speed and line exiting the previous corner.
Donna here was having a great time showing off to all the spectators that sit on the inside of the last turn. This is usually where most rubber is burnt as the wheels are spinning the fastest. Hence more smoke.
And if you have had enough or broken your car, the pit exit lane is right there. A very small, tight, and fast little track compared to others around NZ that have you at the top of 4th. Plus it’s relatively safe, the only place one could really damage their car is at the initiation.
It was great catching up with some old buddies at Track 3, and meeting some new ones in real life that I had only communicated with online. I am thinking this is going to be the track where I drift my S14 in NZ for the first time. It’s a little bit of a drive, but it’s also very similar to the likes of Bihoku where I spent nearly all of my time drifting in Japan. We shall see…
Lunchtime had passed, the sun was getting lower. I headed back to Track 2 to take a few more photos from a different angle, hiding from the harsh sunshine (I was already burnt!). There was tyre in my hair, nose, ears, and probably in my mouth. That didn’t matter, my spirits were still high. It was great being back in NZ, shooting cars and talking with mates.
Everybody was keen to get a few more laps in before the day was done. A few drift trains here and there were great to see. People were becoming more confident as the day progressed, creeping closer to the driver in front of them. Thankfully, the better they get, the better my pictures get!
And that was all she wrote. After a long day at the track in the sunshine, it was time to chill out with some mates. In typical NZ male fashion, we went to a local pub and all ordered a beef burger with fries. The addition of an old favourite lemon-lime & bitters made the meal rather exceptional. Stay tuned, because we have Sunday’s article still to come!
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Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable
Ambition Works 2012 – 2020
Scroll down to see more action shots from the day.