It is hard to stay under the radar when you race a bright orange, 800-horsepower Chev Corvette. Ian Burson's weapon of choice positively screams "look at me".
But, if the Wakefield logging contractor had his way, he would sneak into Woodford Glen Speedway near Kaiapoi tomorrow, do the business at the New Zealand super saloon championship meeting over the weekend, then tow his car home with a 1NZ plate on the side.
Burson's been a pre-race favourite in championship meetings in the past but, in a long speedway career, he has learned that all the planning and power possible count for little if lady luck is having a rough night.
Last summer, the Burson team debuted a new car in time for the national super saloon meeting on his home track. The stunning Inhaus-TATES Corvette was immediately tagged as a title favourite. Burson finished 12th.
"To be honest, that meeting came up too soon for us," he said. "We'd seen Shane [McIntyre, the builder of the Hypermac chassis] bring out new cars and go well straight out of the box but we found ourselves going backwards in the buildup to that meeting.
"Shane's driving style is different from mine and we were making major changes every meeting trying to get comfortable. In the end, we cracked it the week after the championships were over."
After a frustrating first half of the season, Burson went on a tear in the 21N car, proving almost untouchable in the New Zealand Grand Prix and the Super Saloon Hoopla at Woodford Glen, winning the final three rounds of the ELF Super Cup series and the South Island title at Blenheim, also scoring the John Webster Memorial Trophy in Auckland.
With a few more tweaks in the off-season, he has been the driver to beat in the South Island so far this year. He leads the ELF Cup, won the South Island title for the third year in a row and heads to Christchurch tomorrow as a favourite for a podium placing.
The Woodford Glen track is one of the strongholds of super saloon racing and Burson has revelled in the competition provided in the South Island.
"Some years, the northern guys have had it all over us but now, if you can run at the front in the South Island, you are going to be on the pace," he said.
"We have always tried to stay a step above the opposition but guys like Dennis Bolt and Richie Taylor have stepped up their cars, it's harder to keep that edge than it was."
He has only had one run on the host track since it was ripped up and relaid after complaints about the clay surface earlier in the season. It had rutted badly, almost developing a second tier, and was really only raceworthy on the inside line.
Burson said the changes at the last Woodford Glen meeting were evident.
"We didn't have a lot of luck. In the second heat I got cleaned out and lost the whole right front corner of the car; hubs, stubs, brakes, everything.
"But, even running with no front brakes and sliding all over the show, we made places and passed cars in the later races. If we get a clean run this weekend, the thing will be flying."
Burson will be joined at the Glen by two Nelson clubmates. Mark Carey will take the 3NZ plate south after scoring a strong third on a sunbaked Nelson dustbowl last year, while his brother, Shane, has continued to work wonders on a limited budget in his Camaro. Nelson's Neville Wood was second in the country last year, but has only raced once since and did not enter the championship meeting this weekend.
Burson knows he has the tools to do well tomorrow and Saturday but he refuses to talk up his chances. Too many "almosts" have made him wary.
"I can say that we haven't shown everything we have yet," he said. "There's more there but we need that little bit of luck.
"The plan is to head down with a goal in mind and stay positive. There was a time last season when we were battling the car and we dropped our bottom lip, really dragged our arses, but we are well past that now.
"I just hope we get the chance to give a good account of ourselves and don't get tied up in anyone else's bad night. I think I have done my time being the hard luck story."
New Zealand super saloon championships, AmPro Tools Woodford Glen Speedway, Kaiapoi, tomorrow and Saturday from 7pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News