We interview Tony Walker, CEO of Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park.
It’s been an interesting year for you folk at BMMP this year, not the least being hit by the COVID shutdowns?
“It has been, interesting, challenging, but rewarding I have to say.”
How long have you been involved at BMMP, and what’s your background in motorsport?
“I played a small part in the initial expansion development in 2005-6. Chris Abbott and the late Ian Maskell were largely responsible for the conceptualizing, planning and delivery of the concept as it is today. There was a change of TMP Board in 2015, after the company financial position became dire, with Chris Abbott (after an absence of 8-9 years) and Ian Maskell coming back on to the Board and as a direct result of their appointment, I was asked to assist with a total restructure of TMP.
I’d had very little motorsport experience really. Apart from being a spectator at Pukekohe and Baypark in my teens. However, my involvement in Taupo in 2005-6 gave me a good insight into the business side of things. My background has been business development and management as a consultancy since 1989. To a large extent I didn’t need to know much about motorsport, my co-directors, Ian Maskell and Chris Abbott had a wealth of experience. We often joked that I wasn’t influenced by the smell of burning rubber or the rumble of V8 engines therefore have remained somewhat impartial.”
Is it fair to say BMMP seems to have had a chequered path since the glory days of the A1GP?
“As many in motorsport will know the complex, or should I say the company, TMP, after the halcyon days following the expansion of the original Taupo Car Club race track in 2007 with the A1GP (one of the biggest motorsport events ever held in NZ) the business was in a bad way. It was significantly impacted by the Global Financial Crisis that hit the world in 2007, affecting NZ from 2008 onwards.
Sporting involvement, being a highly discretionary activity suffered as corporates pulled back on sponsorship etc. Not long after that a major competitor in the form of Hampton Downs opened in October 2009. In hindsight perhaps there could have been some better management decisions made during that time also.”
Why has the relationship with the Taupo Car Club become so seemingly acrimonious?
“Basically a difference of opinion. We believe TCC had not be operating within both the intent and spirit of an agreement with TMP. We contend, with good reason that this resulted in TMP suffer a significant loss of critical revenue which simply couldn’t continue if the complex were to remain operating as a viable motorsport facility.
TCC, Taupo Car Club, is after all a not-for-profit volunteer run incorporated society who’s stated mandate is to foster grass roots motorsport activity. However if you look at their revenues over the years, bank balance, financials etc., (which are all registered and available in the public domain) you will see a picture more of a profitable organisation, while the Company that owned and maintained the racetrack and its extensive facilities was, at least, from a technical point of view, insolvent.
Drastic action was required to save the Company and its facilities from the circling vultures, and we make no apologies for taking the necessary measures, which has seen the Company cash flow positive, and sitting on a growing asset, as was recently demonstrated when the majority of our shareholders rejected an offer from Tony Quinn that would have resulted in the shareholders making a small profit on their long-held investment. The Taupo Car Clubs out of the blue demand, to be paid $450,000 before they would agree to the sale, helped seal the resolve of the vast majority of the shareholders not to sell. We take that as a vote of confidence in the Boards management and the future expansion plans for the park.”
We understand there is a legal dispute, what is the status of that at this point in time?
“As with formal agreements or contracts, at least well documented ones, there is a dispute resolution process. It’s slow but I can say that it is now finally progressing, which it needs to for both parties.”
Has the dispute affected BMMP’s day to day operations?
“Its a minor distraction but quite simply we have been exceptionally busy expanding the business, and as such we’ve had to remain focused on that given the challenges that face motorsport these days.”
What is your view of the motorsport scene as we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st Century?
“The changes we have seen since 2015 are significant the world over. And given the size of motorsport in NZ particular the competition side of motorsport, the changes are being brought about by a number of factors. No real sponsorship, no rockstar events, other than the Australian Supercars. There is an emergence of a market that doesn’t want too many rules. EV racing seems to make most audience yawn.
We now talk about the activity broadly as “motorsporting” in that the activity is spread across a number of different motorsport interests, both casual and competition wise. For example, a growing interest in non-competitive track day activity, drifting is expanding, burnout competition, medium level team endurance events.”
What’s your view of Motorsport NZ as the sport’s governing body?
“Once upon a time Motorsport New Zealand (and Motorcycling NZ) ruled or presided over just about every motorsport event. Given the various “motorsporting” activities there are today, this has diminished substantially somewhat potentially leaving MSNZ behind to a larger extent. I’m not sure what the answers are. I do know some of the questions that need answers, it’s just that MSNZ’s mandate seems to prevent it from pursuing them.
The very fact that there are a number of motorsport facilities in NZ now operated by commercial entities which are getting involved with all sorts of non MSNZ officiated motorsport activities clearly means a diminished role. Also, the functioning of motorsporting activities is now much more automated by the growing array of technology meaning the reliance on old systems is no longer efficient.”
Tony Quinn recently made an offer to purchase BMMP and we understand the offer was rejected by the majority of shareholders, can you tell us about that?
“TMP Limited, the company the owns and operates Taupo is a listed public company with over 180 shareholders. The shareholders are largely local investors, some businesspeople who invested in order to secure economic benefits for the community, other shareholders are a range of individuals and families who just wanted to support the Companies initiative. Only a handful of them are motorsport enthusiasts. Not forgetting the fact these shareholders have seen nothing for their investment in all the years of operation, and in fact in 2015 there was every possibility they could have lost their entire investment. Quinn’s offer was put to the shareholders at the 2021 shareholder AGM and was rejected by a margin of 60-40. It needed 75% to gain approval.”
Why do you think TMP shareholders turned down the offer?
“I think several factors. Details related to the offer including several aspects of uncertainty. Another reason was the overall value of the offer. To build the facility today would leave with little change out of $20 million and given that shareholders have seen the improvement in trading results over the last 3 or 4 years. perhaps thought the offer could have been better. And judging some recent share trading there certainly seems to be some validity in that viewpoint.”
Wouldn’t Quinn have added significant value to the facility as he has at Highlands and Hampton Downs?
“There is no question Highlands is a great facility, which also include “Disneyland” like entertainment factors that are designed to attracts tourists and a fine car display, plus of course the “LOO WITH A VIEW”. Hampton Downs was the brainchild of Tony Roberts and Chris Watson, to which Tony Quinn has added many new additions to, and good ones at that. Tony actually stated he admires Taupo as a great facility and that there is very little required other than perhaps some additional cosmetics. Taupo is undoubtedly the most versatile motorsport facility in the country with its FIA grade 2 rating (the only track in the country to feature same), three track configurations where we can operate 2 tracks simultaneously along with a drag strip. All 3 configurations offer high levels of safety and are a favourite with motorbikes, racecar test drivers and budding motorsport newbies.”
So, OK, Mr Quinn has gone, what next?
“We have always had a robust future business plan and as much as COVID has made managing our calendar a challenge, it has bought a tremendous amount of business to Taupo from the stay-at-home NZ market. And while the town is growing rapidly it has always had great infrastructure, accommodation, great shopping and given the shortly to open State Highway 1 bypass of Hamilton (adding to the Huntly expressway), this will bring the significant market of Auckland to within 2 and 1/2 hours or so of easy driving to Taupo.
We are busy developing new and different motorsporting offers along with corporate team initiatives to supplement the competitive car and motorbike market. Future business plans involves adding a drift day concept to our already successful drive/ride day programmes, both of those featuring a substantial database. We have just launched our annual membership programme, the Octane Club which incorporates exclusive track access days along with unlimited access to general track days, car testing access and complimentary event access.
We have increased our driver, rider, and drift training programmes to cater for the growing increase in our own events such as track days, the 9-5 Endurance event series, along with our annual Historic GP. We have launched a new building development with 16 units for track or race day customers to store their cars and equipment. A number have already sold off the plans. Of course, these activities complement the significant number of yearly national series round of cars, bike and drift events. And just to round out activities this year we are to run several community driver training days, (for young and older drivers)focusing on road car safety and accident-avoidance measures.
So, a very very busy year ahead.”