Manfeild can probably lay claim to being the home of motorsport in New Zealand, having staged the only World Championship events in the country's history in the 1980's and '90s.
The course was built by the Manawatu Car Club on land on the outskirts of the town of Feilding, opening in October 1973. Finances were raised by the members (several took mortgages on their homes) and a $130,000 bank loan, as well as other fundraising drives. The new circuit took its name as a contraction of Manawatu and Feilding - the latter's unusual e-before-the-i spelling is because the town is named after Colonel William Feilding.
The 1.88 mile (3.033 km) course was a rough horseshoe shape which doubled back on itself through a series of esses and a long straight. Almost completely flat, it nevertheless provided a decent enough challenge, helped by lightly banked corners which were evidently inserted at the suggestion of local boy Chris Amon, who drew on the best of his European experiences to help the car club design the layout. In its early form, the circuit could be run in either direction, though clockwise was the most common guise.
Almost immediately the course became an accepted part of New Zealand motorsport life, in particular for fans of bike racing, who were drawn each year to the now-defunct Castrol Six-Hour endurance races (run annually between 1974 and 1988) or national championship events. Riders the likes of Ginger Molloy, Roger Freeth, Graeme Crosby and Robert Holden were among those to cut their teeth here against visiting Australian stars such as Wayne Clarke, Rob Doran, Neil Chivas, Scott Doohan and Troy Corser. The early careers of Simon Crafar and Aaron Slight also blossomed here before they headed overseas to international glory.
Superbikes put Manfeild on the map
It was the track itself which, slightly surprisingly, achieved worldwide glory in 1988 when it was announced that Manfeild would play host to the finale of the fledgling World Superbike World Championships, then in its first season. Quite what the riders more used to European venues made of the trek halfway around the world to rural New Zealand is unclear, but they certainly enjoyed the welcome as fans packed into the wooden bleachers to enjoy the action. For the teams, working amidst former pig pens and cattle stalls in the paddock behind the grandstands it was a much more agricultural experience!
Nevertheless, the event proved a success and Manfeild was included on the calendar for 1989. Even the implementation of a ban on tobacco advertising didn't derail things, with new sponsorship found to replace Rothmans and ensure the race went ahead once more and was also featured in the 1990 schedules.
By the time the World Superbike stars returned at the turn of the decade, the circuit has undergone a transformation, with a new loop bringing the circuit up to full international standards, The new track extension took the full length up to 2.803 miles (4.511 km) and could be operated independently to the original course, often used for driver training purposes.
Around this time, new land was also acquired from the former horse racing circuit to the north to help diversify the operation, allowing it to host agricultural and other shows. This would become a significant source of income and future development.
World Superbikes paid a final visit in 1992, the races being taken by champion Doug Polen and his Ducati team mate Giancarlo Falappa. A calendar shakeup the following year saw Manfeild dropped, in all likelihood never to return, marking the end of its international adventure. The circuit nevertheless remained busy as a domestic racing venue, hosting the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix from 1992 to 1995 (for the domestic Formula Atlantic/Brabham cars) with winners including Greg Murphy and Craig Baird, and since 2008 as part of the Toyota Racing Series.
Trust formed to develop the circuit
In October 2004 the three landowners - Manawatu District Council, Feilding Industrial Agricultural and Pastoral Association and the Manawatu Car Club - deeded their land and formed the Manfeild Park Trust. This has responsibility for developing the circuit (now known as Manfeild: Circuit Chris Amon, having previously been Manfeild Autocourse) and the adjoining Manfeild Park conferencing facilities. The latter saw the addition in 2007 of a 7,500 square metre stadium with an all-purpose indoor surface suitable for all kinds of events, including equestrian and canine shows. At the time of construction, it was the largest single-span building in the lower North Island.
Motorsport still continues to play an important part of the year round activity. Today, the original 3km circuit is the only one used for competitive motorsport - the track extension does not hold an FIA licence and increasing safety standards also render it unsuitable for motorbike racing; the back straight wall would require an airfence to brought in at the very least. The circuit is lapped exclusively in a clockwise direction by cars and on most occasions by bike races, though motorcycle racing can be held in the anticlockwise direction if approved by the steward on the day.
The circuit is considered the home venue of the Toyota Racing Series (Toyota New Zealand has its headquarters nearby) with the the Grand Prix the largest event on the calendar, attracting up and coming drivers from Europe to do battle with their antipodean counterparts in the winter single seat series. Future Le Mans winner Earl Bamber is among the past winners, alongside talents such as Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy. Canadian Lance Stroll and Brit Lando Norris are more recent victors.
Other events include the New Zealand Touring Cars, the Wellington-based Victoria Motorcycle Club's popular Winter Road-race Series and visits by the New Zealand Superbikes. The circuit also sees year round action for driver training, drifting events, track days and club motorsport. Sprint events are also held on the club circuit.