Marmite and Jandals

Written by Team USA. Posted in Driver Blog, Feature, Neil Alberico

Published on January 20, 2014 with No Comments

The dramatic start of Race 1 at Timaru (Bruce Jenkins photo)

Timaru, New Zealand (January 19, 2014) – I am falling in love with New Zealand more and more every day. This country has got to be the world’s best-kept secret. The countryside is gorgeous, the people are lovely and the racing is even better.

The first round of the Toyota Racing Series was at the Teretonga circuit in Invercargill. Invercargill is one of the southernmost cities in New Zealand and also home to the “World’s Fastest Indian.” Burt Munro rode a 1000cc Indian Motorcycle over 190 mph out at Bonneville back in the ‘60s. He is a legend in Invercargill now. There was actually a movie made about him; if you ever get a chance, check it out.

Anyway, Invercargill is known for sketchy weather year-round so naturally we had plenty of rain practice last week. It was a total challenge learning how to drive the car, manage the tires and work with the team. We didn’t have the greatest result but overall we made loads of progress with the car and ended the weekend 10th in the championship. Onwards and upwards to Timaru for Round 2!

After the race weekend we did a bit of sightseeing around Invercargill with my teammates Damon and Brendon Leitch who also grew up there. Their mom works at Knight of New Zealand, which is a large wool jacket manufacturer. If I’m lucky I will be coming home with a 100 percent handmade jacket made with real sheep’s wool. We then drove to what they call the Bluff, which seemed to me like the bottom of the earth! There is a sign there that shows how far you are from the South Pole (which is not too far), New York, London and a bunch of different parts of the world as well. From there we slowly made our way up the coast to the next race meeting in Timaru. During the trip we managed to get our van stuck in the mud driving through a sheep farm; that was fun. We also stopped at a place called Curio Bay, which is absolutely beautiful. Apparently Curio is short for curious, because of how curious people are of the oceanside there. Curio Bay reminds me a lot of Big Sur in California minus the Penguins that inhabit here in New Zealand. There was a small natural wood house covered in long grass that sat on the hillside overlooking the bay. Its backyard dropped off a huge rock cliff into the water. The sound of the waves crashing and the sheep walking across the grass blowing in the wind was the idealistic picture of what defined New Zealand in my mind.

We just finished the race weekend here in Timaru and we brought home our first top-five finish in the Team USA Scholarship car. Everyone on the Victory Motor Racing team has been working very hard to make massive improvements from the first weekend and they most definitely earned this result. We were able to take advantage of a good qualifying position for race one on Saturday to finish fifth. Unfortunately we did not have the best result Sunday afternoon as we qualified midfield. That just goes to show how important qualifying is.

Sunday was a messy race day to say the least. Just about every start and restart was jumped yet there were no penalties issued until after the races had ended, completely altering the outcome. Basically, we got stuck in a situation where I believe we were wrongfully penalized for an incident on track in Race 2 involving one of my teammates, Brendon Leitch, and myself. The penalty dropped me from sixth to 17th. Brendon and I both went to the race director to explain the situation but no one in the control tower wanted to hear what we had to say. It was very frustrating. Anyway, with all the carnage that happened the day prior, I think the officials were just a little heavy handed when dishing out penalties on Sunday. To cut a long story short, our next step is to write a letter of appeal to MotorSport New Zealand to get this fixed. I really believe this could have been avoided by a simple, honest conversation, but that didn’t happen. Some things in racing are just too complicated for a simple guy like me!

I’m going to try and get up early and get a time-lapse of the sunrise with my GoPro. I want to get shot of the sunset, but it doesn’t get dark here until 10pm! That’s just one of the many new things that take some getting used to when you first come here. My short list for a foreigner is to prepare yourself for 16 hours of daylight, Marmite, jandals and the price of fuel. There is a lot of time during the day to get things done with that amount of sunlight. Marmite is a yeast spread that you would typically put on your toast. Marmite is potent stuff, but a Kiwi necessity. Jandals are the New Zealand version of flip-flops only they wear them year-round. As far as fuel prices go, let’s just say Americans have no real reason to complain about high fuel prices!

Basically if I lived in New Zealand I would make sure to have a good set of blinds in my house, Marmite in the pantry, a different pair of jandals for every occasion and a bike in my driveway.

The next race is at Highlands Motorsport Park and we have a few days to kill before then so I reckon the plan is to get out in the ocean and do some fishing with the boys! Keep an eye out for the some good footage from that trip next week.

Keep life simple.

Neil

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