The 2016 Haltech Grudge Kings NZ event, held on November 27 at Meremere Dragway, built up a lot of hype, and with good reason. Four drag vehicles were shipped over from Australia as the event’s headlining acts — and we’re not just talking about any old cars, either. 

You may not have heard of any of them prior to the 2016 Haltech Grudge Kings NZ event, but there is no doubt that you know about them now. Comprising of Tristan Ockers’ insane ‘MINCER’ Ford Capri, Tomi Raikko’s twin-turbo Holden Torana LJ, Po Tung’s 2JZ-powered Toyota Supra, and Frank Cannistra’s 13B-powered Mazda RX-3, these cars are all heavy-hitters back home. They were not coming to New Zealand for a relaxing cruise down the waterfront. 

The basis of Grudge Kings is heads-up racing, traditionally held on an eighth-mile track over in Australia. However, due to the popularity of traditional quarter-mile drag racing in New Zealand, this event was held over the full length of the Meremere Dragway strip, pitting the Aussies against the best that New Zealand has to offer. 

Unfortunately, it became apparent that a lot of local drag racers simply weren’t going to show. This was probably attributable to the worrying weather forecast, which was predicting rain throughout the day, despite the actual skies overhead telling a different story. 

The schedule had racing commence early, and with the Australian cars already impressing the crowds just by sitting still in the pit area, the morning was going to get a whole lot better. MINCER was the star of the show, and could not be matched for the brutality of its soundtrack or the aggressive, and slightly scary, way it catapulted down the dragstrip. 

Tomi’s Torana let the turbos do the talking. The pair of turbos give it a rather subdued soundtrack for a six-second car, and the exterior isn’t particularly in-your-face, either. That’s in stark contrast to the way it hauls arse, though — no fuss, just loads of rear-end squat and massive servings of speed. 

The ‘MR HELI’ Mazda RX-3 piloted by Frank Cannistra would have to have been one of the most insane-sounding vehicles there — there’s nothing quite like a mega-power 13B spitting foot-long flames on the two-step. It’s not all noise and no go, though, as Frank proved throughout the day. 

Last, but certainly not least, was Po Tung’s stock-chassis Toyota Supra. Po laid down the first pass of the day, hammering home the fact that these guys mean business. Making over 1750hp at the wheels from a 2JZ engine — built around a standard block, crank, and head — and running seven-second passes on a 10.5-inch tyre — Po’s Supra is a real deal, world-class drag car. 

That said, the local racers in attendance weren’t mucking around, either. As one of the event’s biggest unofficial promoters, thanks to his daily online shit-talking, Ryan Sheldon had a lot at stake, but he also had a secret weapon, having led the Aussies to believe his ‘Joker’ Camaro was an 8.5-second car, despite its 7.94-second PB. That didn’t save him on the strip, though, and he got his arse handed to him by the Aussie boys all day — however, he was the life of the party, and the event wouldn’t have been the same without him there. 

Steve Milliken brought the GSS Altered down to play, but a transmission failure on the first pass of the day meant he never got the chance to put his money where his mouth was. 

Even so, the team provided solid entertainment throughout the day, with some of the boys dressing up as convicts to make the Aussies feel right at home! None of them could top Jody Brogden, though, who fulfilled a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be Michael Franklin’s dream back-up girl.

Michael Franklin and the Drunk Goat Racing team were back, and even with the overseas contingent, ‘540GTO’ was still one of the coolest cars present. There’s just something about a blown alcohol engine in a back-halved, steel-bodied muscle car — it looks amazing, sounds even better, and is a ton of fun to watch down the strip. ETs in the high seven-second zone definitely don’t hurt, either!

Jodey Irving was back in the third-gen Camaro — New Zealand’s quickest back-half car — which looks brand-spanking following last season’s wall tap. Jason Horn’s back-halved Mitsi Lancer has undergone a number of changes in the off-season, and this provided a pretty neat showdown, Irving running a 7.75 at 154.3mph to Horn’s 8.90 at 157.6mph — both a little off the pace when compared with their respective PBs. 

Doron Anderson-Vazey has to be one of the country’s most dedicated drag racers, hauling his 440-powered Cuda to meets throughout New Zealand, and he was present here. Running consistent 9.70s, Doron and his Cuda are the perfect bracket racer combo, and enjoyed a solid day’s racing. Fabian Goldbert’s awesome El Camino should run a lot quicker, too, now packing the old engine from Barry Plumpton’s Monte Carlo doorslammer. 

One of the toughest cars in attendance was also one of the smallest. Hilton Bush’s ‘VIOLNT’ Mazda RX-2 doesn’t only look tough as nails — with a massive Garrett GT47R turbo strapped to the side of the bridgeported 13B — the methanol-drinking power plant has propelled the tube-frame RX-2 to eight-second quarters, and there’s more potential in it. This is one car we’re hoping to see more of in the upcoming drag season. 

And, speaking of quick 13Bs, Azhar Bhamji managed to get his street-legal Mazda R100 to a new PB of 9.21s at 150.3mph — seriously impressive for a manually shifted street car on small tyres. Azhar’s R100 isn’t only quick, putting on a show every time as it pulls massive wheels-up launches.

The ST Hitec Nissan Skyline GT-R (R33) is another quick streeter to watch. Powered by a RB26/30 hybrid stroked to 3.4 litres, it makes over 1200hp with the assistance of a huge Garrett GTX42R turbo, and managed to run a 10.6 at 142mph on 20-inch wheels. That sort of trap speed is representative of a nine-second car, if it could get off the line cleanly. We hope to see it run a nine, although it’s probably not going to be doing that anytime soon, unless a compliant roll cage finds its way inside the cabin. 

Unfortunately, the day’s racing would end on a low note, on what was to be the last quarter-mile race before switching to an eighth-mile track; Po Tung staged in the right-hand lane against Frankie Cannistra’s RX-3. Frankie killed him at the tree, blasting ahead of Po’s Supra, but Po’s 2JZ power quickly began pulling the RX-3 in. As Po shifted into top gear, the Supra’s rear end kicked out, sliding across the track — directly in front of Frankie — before smashing into the left-hand barrier at over 170mph, and only just clipping Frankie’s front left-hand fender.

Po escaped the wreckage unscathed, but the Supra was a write-off, although with any luck, the bulk of the mechanicals will be able to be salvaged. That black mark on the day also spelled the end of racing, as the rain decided to quit its intermittent interference and pour down for good. 

While the competitor numbers were lower than anticipated, you couldn’t fault the quality of racing displayed by the entrants. It was a great day at the track, marred by only one low — but that’s drag racing. The Aussies all enjoyed their time here, and we hope they’ll be back next year for a 2017 Haltech Grudge Kings NZ event. It deserves to be as big as it is over in Australia; we’ll just have to wait and hope. 

2016 awards:

  • Best in Show (First Place): Carl Johnston’s Chev Impala
  • Best in Show (Second Place): Podge Reid’s Mazda RX-7
  • Best Paint: Carl Johnston’s Chev Impala
  • Best Interior: Blue Mustang
  • Top Engine Bay: Podge Reid’s Mazda RX-7
  • Best Modified: Wiremu Burkhardt’s Mazda B2000
  • Best Rotary: Podge Reid’s Mazda RX-7
  • Best Late-Model: Shoneel Ram’s Mitsubishi Evo VII
  • Toughest Street Car: Renee Porter’s Holden HQ
  • People’s Choice: Karl Ristic’s Ford Falcon XA GT
  • Wildest Ride: Po Tung
  • Biggest Burnout: Frank Cannistra
  • King of Grudge: Ryan Sheldon
  • Toughest Car: Jodey Irving
  • Best Street: Azhar Bhamji