The sun has set, the car stops, lights bouncing around the sky, you stumble from your car intoxicated. You falter, on a high you never knew was possible. No, this is not another tale of a drunk driver; this is how Ian Carroll felt when he finished the International Rally of New Zealand. After four days of mechanical setbacks, bad weather and skirmishes with fences, when he and his Mitsubishi Lancer EX reached the finish line and the adrenaline stopped flowing he literally fell out of the car. Thirty-third across the finish line, that’s not bad for the boy who drew fat wheels on pictures of cars at a country school in Taumaranui.
Watching his grandfather race boats in Wanganui began a lifetime obsession in fast cars for this farm boy. Landing his first car upside down in a ditch didn’t discourage him; Ian went on to purchase his second car, a Ford Escort. It took a year of work before he was ready for his first event; a gravel sprint up a country road, where a fence got the better of him and he was hooked.
Taking a week off work is not the way to endear yourself to your workmates, but that is exactly what Ian did when the pull to repair the damaged Escort was too strong to resist. Ian managed to walk away with slightly less damage to his own body. Fate can be kind. “That was the worst accident, for the car, I have had,” said Ian, able to smile at the memory. His crash tally stands at 24 in his rallying career. While at the moment recovering from his latest accident–his ankle badly damaged this time–there is no talk of stopping. Work has already begun on the next Escort.
So what do you think is it that drives a man from one race to the next? In spite of evenings spent at a rugby field, practicing nighttime pit stops in preparation for a rally or hours testing a scuba diving tank to see how many times it can operate an air jack for the car, Ian’s devotion to his sport is visible for all to see. Having been a passenger myself at times when he has raced, I wasn’t surprised when he told me what compels him to continue: “I like to compete, but the big thrill is to cross the finish line.”
And he would know. He hasn’t always made it across the finish line. In 2002, competing in his faithful companion of 18 years, a Mazda RX7, Ian was forced out 2 days into the 5 day Targa Rally. So what happened? He ran out of spare parts. Motor sport is unpredictable, but there is always the next race and always another car to rebuild.
So what’s next on the agenda? Ian has his sights on the next challenge, the Targa again. “I hope I have learnt from the past and make it through to the last stage this time,” Ian told me. Watching him work surrounded by metal, grease and rubber, I can’t help but think it doesn’t really matter whether he finishes or not, for at that moment he reminds me of a bird in mid-flight, wings motionless, solely enjoying the ride.