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Possum's prompt pushes double amputee sky-high


Possum's prompt pushes double amputee sky-high

Tony Christiansen, the man who makes a living inspiring others, says all it took was a little inspiration from a Kiwi sporting icon to plant the seed for his latest motorsport challenge.

The high-profile Tauranga double amputee will spend Easter weekend attempting to complete the annual Silverstone "Race to the Sky" hill climb - in his Pontiac Firebird speedway saloon affectionately nicknamed "Tonails."

Christiansen said hearing that this year's hill climb might be the last has been his motivation.
"I never really knew Possum Bourne all that well and I wouldn't claim to have been a friend of his, but I'd see him at a few events or in airports from time to time," the Tauranga motivational speaker, who has popped up on television perched on a plank between two high poles delivering talks to corporate groups or school students, said.

"He knew of my passion for motorsport and told me a number of times 'you have to have a go at that hill climb.'

"I didn't really think all that much about it till I heard this year might be the last time it's held.

"I thought I should give it a go. It'd be nice to drive up past that statue (of Bourne) and get all the way to the top."

Christiansen first hit the news as a nine-year-old when his legs were amputated after being caught under a train.

But losing his limbs hasn't stopped him competing in speedway racing using modified hand controls.

He has also owned a rally car for five years, had stints as a swinger in motorcycle side-cars, has represented New Zealand in athletics at the Paralympics, flown solo and climbed Africa's highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro.

There is no shortage of challenges involved in modifying a car, which is designed to turn left on a quarter-mile oval track, to tackle the well-worn 15km course that climbs the side of the Pisa range, near Cardrona in Central Otago.

So in recent weeks the 5.8-litre V8 Pontiac Firebird, which won the season opening saloon feature at Baypark, has been missing from the oval track.

Instead it's been residing in the Greerton workshop of Kerry McIntyre getting the modifications needed to turn right as well as left and climb a mountain.

"Now it looks like a saloon car on steroids," Christiansen laughs.

"It's got big Goodyear Wrangler offroader tyres on it and we've lifted it up about three inches to get some more ground clearance.

"The motor has been rebuilt - but that needed doing anyway - and we've changed the sump because the speedway one is designed for a car that turns left all the time.

"We've put a sway bar on the back to loosen it up a bit getting into the turns and put another radiator in the front.

"I've lifted the gearshift up next to the steering wheel.

I don't change gear in a saloon race but I'll have to change gear to get out of the tight hairpins."
Christiansen and McIntyre have also laid a full plywood floor under the car for underbody protection.

For Christiansen, car racing was a passion which he had been following for years.

"Dad built me a go-kart out of angle iron when I was 11. We robbed an old lawnmower engine and that pushed me around for a long time.

"I've been to the (Race to the Sky) event twice and I thought, I could do that, not a problem. It's just about the time and the wherewithal."

Christiansen feels the Pontiac will be well suited to the twisty Snow Farm Road.

The annual hillclimb allows cars to run to a variety of regulations and he has opted to enter in the class sanctioned by the Offroading Association.

"That means doing a few silly things to the car. We've had to put a horn in it and a dust light on the rear."

And there are some extra logistics to consider. "There a few things the other guys don't have to think about.

"I've had to dust off my old wheelchair because I'm going to need two - one in the pits at the bottom and another waiting at the top of the hill."

Christiansen says he's not out to set records, simply conquer the 15km hill, which climbs from the floor of the Cardrona Valley to the Waiorau Snow Farm and an altitude of 1500m above sea level, and its 137 corners.

"There's no chance of beating Monster (Tajima) with his million dollar car.

"All I want to do is give it a go and make it to the top - too many people wish they could do or that they should have done things.

"I can do this and I am doing this. There is no point talking about it if you don't do it."