This story comes to you live from a tent at the side of the Rally New Zealand powerstage. Welcome to Jack’s Ridge. This, my friends, is how you bring rallying to the people.
Ordinarily, we’re 20 minutes outside of Auckland, but 13000 people have made the commute out here slightly longer this morning. It doesn’t matter. It’s worth the queue, worth the wait.
Colin Clark and I were out here earlier in the week, meeting the man who made this whole stage possible: Andrew Hawkeswood. He’s a former competitor whose son Jack is now at the very sharp end of the New Zealand championship.
But today, Andrew’s hosting the biggest and best WRC garden party. It’s on his land, quite literally in his backyard, that history could well be made with Kalle Rovanperä becoming the youngest ever World Rally Champion later today.
Hawkeswood’s a genuine force of nature. And a force very much for the good of rallying. He and Hayden Paddon have been the instigators of regulation change in NZ rallying – via the development of the AP4 car – which has made the sport and more relevant than in years before.
Cars sorted, Andrew decided to provide a stage on which they could perform.
And what a stage.
With 400 acres and classic Kiwi volcanism topography, it wasn’t hard for Hawkeswood to pull together the dream drive.
“We’d built some roads for the Battle for Jack’s Ridge a couple of years ago,” he told DirtFish. “And of course we had some of the existing roads in place. I’d been thinking we could do something a bit bigger, so one Sunday afternoon I wanted to get out of the house – I got in the car, zeroed the odometer and took a drive. I’d got 1.2 kilometers there, another 1.2 there and 1.2 over there, if we could link them up, we could make a good stage.
“So we did.”
Andrew has the advantage of his day-to-day business which involves sorting, sifting and shaping hardcore stone. Building roads was the easy part.
I was in Finland a few years ago and saw the cars flying sideways over some jumps. I wanted one of thoseAndrew Hawkeswood
“It’s best just to get on with these things,” he said. “You can stop and think about it, but just crack on and get them built. I know we’re lucky here, we’ve got the space and the land.”
And it was genuinely that simple to Andrew. He took a drive, had a think, carved up some fields, made some roads and delivered arguably the world’s finest spectator stage.
“I know what I want to see a rally car doing,” he said. “And because I’ve driven a bit, I know what a car can do. I was in Finland a few years ago and saw the cars flying sideways over some jumps. I wanted one of those and, of course, we wanted a big jump in front of the main spectator area.
“Once we’d got that big jump built, I took Jack’s [AP4] car out and had tested it. I only got a meter or so off the ground.
“People are paying good money to come in here and see this stage, that’s not enough. A week or so before the start, we brought 100 tones of stone in and built the jump a bit higher. I had another go… it’s better now!”
It’s impossible not to get caught up in Hawkeswood’s enthusiasm and can do (or just done, would be more accurate) attitude.
Even while the WRC was going on, his engineering business continued and his telephone continued to ring. And ring. And ring.
There was, however, always time for another run around the stage. And when we’d done it at ground level, it was time to take to the skies.
“Let’s take the heli up,” he said, “you’ll get a much better picture up there.”
So we did. And we did.
This sport of ours needs people, innovators, go-getters like Andrew Hawkeswood.
Today, thousands of people will stand in his back garden and agree, as Andrew’s wife Kelly Hawkeswood attests.
“I woke up this morning, was putting pan in oven and thought ‘oh my god what have we done!'” she said.
“Andrew told me we were just having a few friends round!”