I first met Grant Dalton a million years ago when we were driving in the Nissan Mobil 500 street race in Wellington. I was given pole position on the day, not because I was the best driver (I was second to worst going by the results) but I think because I'd organised a thank you presentation for the lovely mechanics who looked after us – and the cars.
The more competitive drivers (Grant Dalton, Matthew Ridge) were most put out. They'd been put at the back of the grid in a form of handicapping and this politically correct nonsense riled the two of them.
"When you see us coming, you get out of the f***ing way!" one of them said, with the other nodding furiously, and I told them I was quite happy to move over. Having one of them up my jacksie far less two of them didn't appeal in any way, shape or form.
One of them went on to win, I'm fairly certain, and I pootled round, putting on my indicator as I went round corners much to the amusement of the motor racing fraternity and it really was a fantastic experience.
I liked Grant Dalton when I met him. Salty, determined, focused, intelligent and not in any way prepared to tolerate a fool, far less suffer one. I was disappointed in his rant a few years ago when he demanded government funding one Friday afternoon or his team would walk.
I have no idea what it's like to be a participant in the ultimate billionaires' cock fight. It must be giddy, heady stuff. And it must be annoying knowing that you're always the beggar at the banquet, operating on the smell of an oily rag, even though you have the best sailors and the best technology. But demanding more money from taxpayers to fund your passion can sound awfully entitled. However, the Government coughed up a bit of dosh and Emirates Team New Zealand went on to win the Auld Mug and brought it back to New Zealand.
With just six months to go until the event is due to begin, the organisers are facing phenomenal obstacles. The impact of Covid-19 is huge and its uncertain just how many challengers will be on the water in January 2021. And then to compound Grant Dalton's annus horribilis, the New Zealand Herald splashed a story this week, revealing concerns from the Auckland City Council and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) about Team New Zealand's use of public money. It all sounded very murky – talk of Hungarian bank accounts and misplaced millions.
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Grant came on to the Mike Hosking Breakfast show and didn't deliver a convincing performance in my opinion. Anyone who starts a sentence with "Let me be clear …" and "If I'm to speak honestly …" always makes my BS antennae tingle. However, he claimed Team New Zealand were the victims – they'd been defrauded of money, the police were on to it and that he'd told MBIE all about it and, really, I can see how it might have happened.
Grant Dalton signed off on an invoice and didn't check the noughts and the ones before he did so. From my brief acquaintance of him, I can imagine he'd think that sort of double-checking is for girly swots. Flourish a big flamboyant signature across a stack of papers in double quick time and there! The office work is done and you can get back out on to the water.
It might pay, in the future, for Emirates Team New Zealand to find the necessary funds for an i-dotter and a t-crosser. Somebody who's good at doing all that boring, nitpicking paperwork so that taxpayer money doesn't end up crossing the palm of a Nigerian prince or a scammer from Hungary. I think it's only fair to be careful with money you've been given.
Mind you, it's a bit rich that the criticism of mismanagement is coming from MBIE – they're the people who grossly overstated the benefits the America's Cup would bring to New Zealand because they'd done a basic sum wrong (it was pointed out to them by economist Sam Warburton and they had to amend the figures accordingly.) The other critic is the Auckland City Council. Enough said.
No doubt we haven't heard the last of this, but I do hope, now we've come this far, that the race goes ahead and Grant Dalton gets to have the final say with his team out on the water.