SERIES SPONSOR IN THE STAR MART HOT SEAT IN CHRISTCHURCH
The beaming smile on the familiar face said it all. High-profile Christchurch businessman Mike Pero had just spent 10 minutes being flung around Christchurch's Powerbuilt International Raceway at near lap record pace by Caltex Star Mart V8 driver Angus Fogg and the adrenalin was still coursing through his veins.
"That was awesome, absolutely awesome, " the founder and spokesperson of mortgage broking business Mike Pero Mortgages said as he eased off his seat belts and traded banter with Fogg as photographers crowded around the Star Mart car. "It's been a couple of years now since I've been in one of these cars and that just brought it all back. I loved it, absolutely loved it."
Pero, whose mortgage broking company is the title sponsor of the 2006/07 New Zealand motor racing championship series, joined the Caltex Racing NZV8s team for a guest ride at Christchurch's Powerbuilt International Raceway at Ruapuna Park on the Friday afternoon before the second round at the end of November.
Though he is best known these days as a businessman, Pero is a former New Zealand motorcycle champion and for several seasons ran his own team and drove the second car in the Parker ENZED NZV8s championship.
So what was the view of his home track like from the specially-fitted passenger race seat in Fogg's Star-Mart car?
"It just seems so much faster in the left hand seat," said Pero as he tried to order his thoughts after his high-speed ride. "The cars themselves seem faster since I was running too, and the way Angus handled the car......now I know why he's at the front of the field."
Pero's own NZV8s career started with a class win in the Liquor King 500km endurance at Powerbuilt International Raceway, and in the two years he drove the second Mike Pero Mortgages Holden Commodore V8 his best finish was an eleventh at Pukekohe.
So he knows what he is talking about when he says;
"The ride was a real eye-opener, that's for sure. Angus is very precise - he knows exactly where he wants the car to be, exactly where he wants to brake and exactly where he wants to turn into the corners - but what surprised me the most was just how aggressive he was."
Caltex Racing was one of the first NZV8s teams to incorporate Guest Rides into their marketing programme and Angus Fogg says they are now a regular part of every race weekend.
"They're our way, " he says, "of giving our sponsors and their guests something extra, something that they'll remember, and something they can tell their friends about."
MotorSport New Zealand promotions arm, The MotorSport Company, schedules up to an hour each Friday afternoon before a race meeting for the rides, with more and more teams taking advantage of the opportunity.
On being invited for a Guest Ride some people, naturally, think that it will be in a road-going car. Not so. The cars Caltex Racing's guests ride in are the very same 400+hp V8-engine Ford BA Falcons Angus Fogg and Paul Pedersen race the next day. The only difference is that before the rides a second racing seat and 6-point safety harness is fitted.
Safety, of course, is paramount. Passengers must wear the same sort of fireproof suit and approved safety helmet as the drivers, and each car is scrutineered by meeting officials before it is allowed to go out onto the track with a passenger.
It takes around half an hour to prepare one of the team's Ford Falcons for a guest ride programme with Star Mart driver Angus Fogg and Havoline driver Paul Pedersen sharing the chauffeuring duties on a turn-about basis.
It was Fogg's turn at Ruapuna and according to him the series sponsor was a model passenger.
"Yes," he said, " he did well. Very well. He soaked it all up.... and wasn't shaking too much when we stopped!"
At which point the man who has become the face of the New Zealand mortgage-broking industry laughs and says;
"You certainly get a different perspective sitting beside someone in one of these cars, but by the same token it's easy to have confidence in someone of Angus' ability because it is obvious from the minute you leave pit lane that he knows what he is doing. The cars are also very good these days; very quick, but also very safe."
Which makes them attractive to drivers and spectators alike.
So it should come as no surprise that motor racing is now officially one of New Zealand's most popular spectator sports with a record crowd of over 100,000 attending last year's Placemakers V8 Supercar meeting at Pukekohe Park Raceway and crowds of up to 10,000 attending rounds of the domestic Mike Pero Motorsport Series over the summer.
It is numbers like these that make the sport attractive to business, and they are one of the reasons - arguably the most compelling one - Mike Pero made the 'career move' from driver to sponsor.
"For us, " he says, "it is about getting our home loans message across to the New Zealand public. There's not the direct relationship between us and the sport as there is, say, with an oil company like Caltex, but at the end of the day we are a people business and lots of people like motorsport. It's colourful, it's exciting, it allows us to differentiate our business and our approach from that of other companies and it has worked for us."
There's also much more to sponsorship than a name on the side of a car, as Pero's Guest Ride with the Caltex-backed International Motorsport team is wont to proof.
"Like Caltex, " he continues, "we use motor racing for a whole range of things. Exposure at the track and exposure on television, plus leverage off the track with things like campaigns based round our involvement."
Also, as part of his company's involvement in the Mike Pero Motorsport Series, Pero attends each and every meeting. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"They're my two passions," he says of motorsport and marketing, "so from that point of view I get to enjoy the best of both worlds."