In a week marred by stress and anxiety, and with the results of the US Presidential election looming as heavy as the dark clouds threatening to burst above us, it was an absolute joy to spend a day celebrating the theme of fun with the Toyota Yaris last Thursday.
‘Made of fun’ is the tagline of the Yaris family, and the team provided just that, along with a deft dose of fun-skewed education around the work Toyota do within the community.
The day kicked off at NZ Olympic House in Parnell where, over muesli cups and coffee, Toyota outlined our itinerary and introduced the two very cool brand ambassadors who would be joining us: champion pole vaulter Olivia McTaggart and champion race car driver Chelsea Herbert.
From there we were assigned our first vehicle for the day, the spacious and ultra-modern Yaris Cross Limited Hybrid SUV (which has a very impressive emissions schedule of just 86g of C02 per kilometre, utilising the same technology that has made Toyota leaders in this field), and given a scenic route to drive to Bracu restaurant.
My partner-in-drive for the day was Good magazine editor Carolyn Enting; an acquaintance of some 20 years who I haven’t seen properly for a long time. We were at first a little nervous about driving someone else’s car in far from optimal conditions, but those feelings disappeared once behind the very safe wheel of the Cross. Years of publishing and fashion industry catch-up gossip may have led to some sloppy navigation; let’s just say if we’d been in The Amazing Race, we would’ve been eliminated.
But it was a beautiful drive through Clevedon and the Hunua ranges, a part of Auckland I hadn’t been through since Childish Gambino played at Tapapakanga Regional Park two years ago. The same feeling of excitement and anticipation of the unknown was in the air. I can also attest to the car’s world-class braking system, as some last minute navigational ‘advice’ resulted in a couple of rather last minute turns.
I haven’t been to a wedding in years, being in that awkward age where most are between first and second marriages, but the mood at Bracu was every bit as festive as if it was one, down to the table settings adorned with Polaroid cameras and boxes of jet planes (a happy motif that flows through Yaris advertising). Instead of a bride and groom, we had speeches from Olivia McTaggart, who outlined her plans for Tokyo 2021, and Chelsea Herbert, who spoke about racing alongside male competitors and stereotypes she’s had to endure. She also very casually mentioned that she broke her back in a freak accident in January and had spent the subsequent months rehabbing.
Both women attested to the unexpected bonus of lockdown; that it had given their physical bodies a chance to rest while they worked on their mental game. Both were articulate, inspirational and had the crowd rooting for their future. It can’t be an easy life - being an athlete in a niche sport, especially one such as racing which is so heavily dominated by men - so to see the benefits of support from a commercial brand like Toyota, in what is clearly a really respectful and supported long term partnership, was really inspiring.
Soon we were back in cars, this time the Toyota Yaris Cross GX SUV, and headed to Hampton Downs. By now the clouds were absolutely bucketing but again the car got us there with confidence.
Upon arrival at the Toyota Gazoo racing HQ we were shown through a presentation of the GR Yaris, a race car you can also drive around the suburbs should you so desire (and be able to control yourselves). We were also introduced to the all-female team of Toyota motorsport drivers; Alexandra Whitley and Tiffany Chittenden joined Chelsea to take us all for hot laps in the car.
I’m not gonna lie; I was completely terrified to do this. In later life, I’m far more chill zen master than I am adrenaline junkie. My children have been known to lap me on the luge. The torrential rain and slippery track wasn’t doing much to allay my fears. But I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my peers, and was prepared to do what I did when my children made me go on Splash Mountain, or when I fly on any airplane: meditate, breathe and when all else fails, ask inane questions of the person sitting next to me. In this instance, poor Chelsea. “So um, how long have you been doing this? I bet you’re popular with the boys.” Cringe.
But on the last lap, something kicked in. I remembered that I grew up in Hamilton and used to love the illegal drags! (Sorry mum!) I also remembered, with much love, my old V8 Valiant 3-on-the-tree stick shift I had to sell after major surgery meant I no longer had the strength to steer the thing. It’s best for the planet (and my bank balance) I no longer drive it, but oh, how I had a sudden urge to drive a manual.
Hot laps safely concluded and adrenaline suitably charged, we were all buzzing as time came to drive back to Auckland. Our last car for the day was the Toyota Yaris Hatch. After embracing our inner speed demons on the track, we were advised to watch our speed limit on the way home - especially as the weather had deteriorated even further - which was very sage advice given what a zippy little number the Yaris was. It was the perfect car for the conditions; at one point the rain was coming in so thick, visibility was dire and we were on a patch of motorway notorious for giant truck use.
The Toyota Yaris Hatch handled it all expertly and I navigated my way through the surrounding larger vehicles without the need to hold my breath, which I sometimes unconsciously do when passing big trucks. I also felt particularly safe (and chirpy) in bright blue on such a miserable grey day. That ray of joyful blue was the perfect end to an incredibly fun day that signalled happy respite from the outside world. A tinge of sadness overcame me as I opened the door at the Toyota dealership on Auckland’s Great North Road, stepped out, shut the door on fun and stepped back into the reality of kids after-school activities, cooking dinner and election cycles.
This content was created in paid partnership with Toyota.