CHAMPCAR/CART: Kiwis part of Team Australia

KIWIS PART OF TEAM AUSTRALIA IT is hard to imagine the New Zealand All Blacks' rugby coaching staff lending a hand to the Australian Wallabies, but that is almost what you have in this year's Champ Car World Series. Team Australia is a new ...

KIWIS PART OF TEAM AUSTRALIA

IT is hard to imagine the New Zealand All Blacks' rugby coaching staff lending a hand to the Australian Wallabies, but that is almost what you have in this year's Champ Car World Series.

Team Australia is a new Champ Car entry created this year by veteran team owner Derrick Walker and Australian businessmen Craig Gore and John Fish.

While these three men have provided the financial support and infrastructure to make this new operation a reality, there are three Kiwis getting their hands dirty to make the Aussie Vineyards Lola of Gold Coaster driver Marcus Marshall as quick as possible.

All three will be back on the job this weekend when the fourth round of the Champ Car World Series is run in Portland Oregon.

Brendon Cleave is an engineer for the newly formed Team Australia operation and, just like All Blacks' head coach Graham Henry, has the job of "making it happen".

Keith Beck works on Marshall's car as a gearbox mechanic and has shared more motel rooms with Cleave than he would like to remember after the pair left New Zealand together in 1992 to chase their motor racing dream behind a set of spanners (wrenches).

Beck and Cleave went to the US with Dave McMillan Racing for that year's Atlantic series and have basically been there ever since.

Chris Schofield also works on the #5 Lola as the lead mechanic and basically has the job of ensuring all the changes that Cleave and Marshall decide on are carried out on the car -- you could say he has a similar role to All Black assistant coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith.

During the 1992 US off-season Cleave picked up a deal with Della Penna Racing in the Champ Car World Series and he has been living in Indianapolis ever since.

Della Penna closed its doors at the end of the 2000 season and Cleave's reputation was enough to ensure he maintained employment in his chosen profession with shock specialists Ohlins.

It was from here that he watched on as Kiwi Scott Dixon ran his first Champ Car season in 2001 and went on to with the series' prestigious Rookie of the Year award.

In 2003 the bug to rejoin a Champ Car team was still itching badly and when an offer came to join Walker Racing he jumped at the chance.

The race tracks of the world are a little different to the motocross circuits he used to compete on at Tokaroa, Pukekohe and Hamilton.

And the Team Australia workshop in the main racing area of Indianapolis is a little larger than the Love Yamaha motorcycle dealership at Hamilton where his career as a motorcycle mechanic originally started.

While he primarily earned a name for himself in US open-wheel racing as a "shock guy", Cleave has grown more recently in the engineering field.

He was assistant engineer to Englishman Darren Manning in 2003, engineered Mario Haberfeld last season and now works with Marshall on a daily basis.

While he has been living in the US for more than 13 years, Cleave still maintains his Kiwi accent and will always be an All Black fan at heart.

"It is quite amazing that this Team Australia deal has come together and that we actually have three Kiwis working on Marcus' (Marshall) car," said Cleave.

"Both Australia and New Zealand have always had great sporting rivalries, but this time we are working together to beat everyone else.

"That doesn't mean we will be easy on Marcus when we beat the Wallabies or even win the netball."

While Champ Car is satisfying his racing appetite at the moment, Cleave says he will be "home" one day -- or close at least.

"Eventually I will go home, but it won't be for a while," admitted Cleave.

"I usually fit in a week at home before or after the Indy 300 on the Gold Coast in Queensland and maybe there will be a spot in the Aussie V8 Supercar series for me when I am done here.

"That would make it a lot easier to get home more often."

Cleave says that it is the constant every-day challenges that maintains his passion for a career that produces more highs and lows than almost any other.

"In racing there is a different challenge every weekend," said Cleave.

"Being a general mechanic you work from 8am-5pm, but there is not much of a challenge in that.

"Every weekend when we turn up to track we are faced with a whole new set of circumstances and in between we are working out ways to ensure we are prepared for those conditions."

Team Australia is contesting the Champ Car series with major sponsorship from Aussie Vineyards, a new Queensland company established by Gore and Fish to export Australian wine into the US market.

The pair is looking to use the program as a tool for other businesses in the pacific region wanting to market their products and services into the US.

Australia will again play host to the Champ Car World Series on the streets of Surfers Paradise for the Lexmark Indy 300 from October 20-23. This year will be the first year in the event's history that a full-time Australian team will compete for glory on home turf.

And, as there has been for several years, there will be plenty of Kiwis up and down pit lane -- this time there will be a few of them wearing the green and gold trying to help Marshall and his team mate Alex Tagliani to victory.

-taus-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Alex Tagliani , Scott Dixon , Marcus Marshall , Wayne Smith