Manfeild’s big race on the buses

Caption: Uzabus driver Alan Hamilton admires the NZGP advertising that’s giving a horsepower lift to the local fleet.ONE of the buses on the daily Palmerston North to Feilding return run has received a huge horsepower lift in celebration of an impending major Manawatu event. The extra grunt meted the 38-seater MAN Optare won’t push passengers back in their seats in a physical sense, however – this update is more about putting them in the picture. Actually, in front of it. The rear panels of three vehicles in the Uzabus fleet are carrying prominent advertising for the New Zealand Grand Prix, coming to Manfeild’s Circuit Chris Amon on the weekend of February 11-12. The prominent feature is a Toyota Racing Series FT 50, the single seater model that contests for NZGP honours and is highly regarded by the mix of international and national competitors. Manfeild project contractor Gavin Halls says the advertising – which, in addition to being on the local run is also appearing on two buses operating in the Wellington area, has created quite a lot of comment since it enacted on December 22. “The feedback has been very positive. Obviously the biggest national circuit race meeting on the calendar – an annual occasion at the Feilding facility since 2007 – is high in fans’ minds. “We’ve always tended to go big with NZGP advertising, with our traditional state highway billboards and also our banner in downtown Palmerston North, but this time we thought we’d take the race to the road. It’s gone well.” The ‘race bus’ is one of four operating on the well-supported Palmerston North-Feilding circuit. Jarrod Watson, of Uzabus operations, says the new look is a real stand out. “It’s a bus, so it’s not supposed to go fast,” he laughs. Pointing to the TRS car image, he suggests: “In horsepower terms, half an engine in one of those probably puts out three times what we have.” This year’s meeting is extra special for the region, being a celebration of the life and achievements of locally born motorsport legend Chris Amon. Manfeild’s intent to honour Amon, who passed away on August 3, started recently with the 3km main track being renamed after the 73-year-old and will continue during race weekend, culminating with a dinner on the evening of February 12. The guest of honour is Belgian Formula One and endurance racing superstar Jacky Ickx, whose friendship with Amon began when they were team-mates at Ferrari in 1968. In addition to be being the finale of the 20-car Castrol Toyota Racing Series, which is again heavily subscribed by international talents racing not just for the NZGP title – the top prize in circuit racing – but also the Chris Amon Trophy for overall series success, the meeting hosts the Toyota 86 Championship, Formula 1600, ENZED Central Muscle Cars, BNT NZ Touring Cars, PORTERGROUP V8 Utes, Pirelli Porsche Series and TradeZone GT1/GT2 and GT3/GT4. The programme is so action-packed that it will run, on February 11, into something not seen at Manfeild for some years, a twilight meeting. “Both days are fully packed, with practice and qualifying all Saturday morning then racing all that afternoon into the early evening,” said Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane.  “Saturdays events include the always popular TRS race for the Dan Higgins Memorial Trophy and wrap up just after 7pm with a big banger V8 touring cars race – so we think it’s a great occasion for the family to come down and enjoy a special occasion. “Sunday morning starts nice and early and this year the event doesn’t wrap up with the NZGP – there are four more races after the signature event. “We’re planning a lot of entertainment for those who perhaps don’t want to spend every minute watching the track action. It’s going to be a great weekend – the best NZGP at Manfeild yet.” Details of the February 11-12 New Zealand Grand Prix meeting and the Chris Amon Celebration dinner, including ticket prices and purchase details, can be found on the Manfeild website,