Alister McRae to drive ex-Possum Subaru WRC car at Race to the Sky
One of the best-known rally cars in the country – Possum Bourne’s ex-World Rally Championship Subaru hill climb car – will once again be back at Race to the Sky on 18 and 19 April, this time with popular rally star Alister McRae at the wheel.
The Australia-based Scotsman was invited to drive the two-door Subaru WRX STI by long-time rally supporter and Bourne’s former co-driver Craig Vincent of Vantage Motorsport, after the car’s earlier driver, former WRC star Kenneth Eriksson, was not available.
McRae is well-known to Kiwi motorsport fans having contested Rally New Zealand several times, plus other events here as part of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship. The former British Rally Champion and works WRC driver has also enjoyed success on two wheels, winning the production motorcycle class of the Australasian Safari rally raid in 2013.
“To drive a 750 horsepower world rally car on a road like Repco Race to the Sky is going to be great,” says McRae. “It’s an event I’ve always wanted the chance to do.”
Having not competed in the earlier editions of the famed gravel hill climb in Central Otago’s Cardrona Valley, McRae says he’s reviewing footage of previous events as part of his preparation. “It helps get an idea of the nature of the road. Once I arrive in New Zealand a few days prior to the event, we’ll do a shakedown test in the car. Then there’s recce of the course on the Friday in a road car, before getting in the rally car on Saturday.”
The car itself has just as much significance to McRae as it does to the legends of fans who followed its Race to the Sky campaigns in the hands of Bourne and then Eriksson.
McRae adds: “I knew Possum; it’s a long time ago and it was a tragic accident but to have the opportunity to drive his car on an event I know he was very passionate about and very good at, it will be good to do that. I’m positive that New Zealanders will be happy to see the car back out there.”
McRae has also recently announced he’ll be contesting the Otago Classic Rally which runs three weeks after Repco Race to the Sky.
Vincent, from Hamilton, who now owns the car said: “Kenneth has driven the car for the four previous visits that we have made to the hill and really wanted to come back this year and compete. However he has been working on a project for a number of years that has him in a position at this time that he just could not make the event this year.
“Alister is a great driver and as a team-mate of Kenneth’s and a friend of Possum’s, we see him as a great fit. He is also very conversant with this era of car. Provided we can deliver a good car to Alister we believe that he can finish on the podium.”
Built in 1998 by Prodrive and driven by Finn Juha Kangas, the car was purchased by Bourne as a shell after Kangas crashed it during Rally New Zealand. Possum Bourne Motor Sport (PBMS) rebuilt the car for the 2001 edition of Race to the Sky, and with around 600 horsepower at his disposal, Bourne promptly won the event. Bourne contested the event in the car again in 2002 but didn’t finish due to a puncture.
The car returned to Race to the Sky each year from 2004 to 2007 with Eriksson, who battled mightily against Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima but could claim no better than second place during those campaigns. Since then, the car has been used only for special events such as Emma Gilmour campaigning it at Rod Millen’s Leadfoot Festival in 2011 and 2012, and Cody Croker driving it ahead of the field on the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally in 2013.
“We (Vantage Motorsport) purchased the car from PBMS after Possum’s death and have continued to race it in memory of our great mate,” says Vincent. “It’s always been prepared by Paul Hayton at Possum Bourne Motorsport, and for this event it’s no different with Paul aiming for the car to deliver around 750 hp.
“Possum would be very proud of the effort and passion his team still put into this car which is now 17 years old and very special to all of us.”
Vincent adds: “It was great to hear that Highlands had decided to get behind the event. They are very professional organisation and the event is such a great occasion that it truly deserves to be on New Zealand’s motorsport calendar. I believe it is a great fit and we’re really looking forward to the event with Alister behind the wheel of the Vantage Aluminium Subaru.”