Major Driver Announcement: Michael Pickens
by Merran Brockie-David
New Zealand’s most famous speedway driver has entered November’s Battle of Jacks Ridge and will take on the best rally drivers in the country over the spectacular 3km-long purpose-built stage in Auckland.
Eight-time national champion Michael Pickens has established himself as the country’s best speedway driver and has enjoyed international success with regular visits to the United States in recent years.
But he will swap the oval circuit for a chance to test himself in a foreign environment as he tackles the stage designed specifically for the World Rally Championship on former national champion Andrew Hawkeswood’s farm in Whitford, Auckland.
The speedway star first showed interest in competing in rallying through a random post on social media, which led to him confirming his entry for the Battle of Jacks Ridge in a cross kart.
“I met Tony Gosling ironically through Hayden Paddon’s Facebook page,” Pickens explained. “I made a smart ass comment asking if anyone would ever be stupid enough to put me in a rally car and Tony got in touch with me and asked me if I was serious.
“I told him I was dead serious and that’s how the conversation started. Tony is making all this happen with the cross kart.”
While obviously very much at home on dirt tracks Pickens admits he has no real experience when it comes to rallying however and he will be an absolute rookie.
“Zero really as far as rally or off-road driving goes. I’m keen to learn and I obviously have a lot of respect for the likes of Paddon and Hawkeswood and co,” he said.
“I am just keen to learn off those guys as quick as I can.
“I don’t know if much of my skill set will naturally transfer over or not. I am going to find out pretty quick.
“It is just another car at the end of the day and another skillset you have to learn.”
And while Pickens has never been to Jacks Ridge before or knows much about what to expect, he is looking forward to media day at the venue next week, where he will look to do as much reconnaissance as possible.
“I have watched a short little clip a few months back but that is all I have seen so far. My first experience will be the media day next week.
“Hopefully I can jump in someone’s car and they can show me what it looks like at speed.”
The Battle of Jacks Ridge takes place Sunday November 15 with live coverage on Sky Sport. Head to www.rallynz.org.nz/ for more and to sign up to the free Gravel newsletter.