He always preferred cars to boats, and Whanganui's expat world endurance champion driver Earl Bamber finally broke the monopoly of the rowers at the 2018 Ray White Whanganui Sports Awards last night.
There had been some contention after the 2017 awards that the 28-year-old Bamber, who that season made unique history with his Porsche LMP team by becoming a two-time winner of the iconic Le Mans 24 Hour race, continued not to be recognised ahead of the steady stream of extraordinary rowing talent which Whanganui produces, winning Olympic and World Championship medals aplenty.
But any ill feeling can now be laid to rest as the driving prodigy, who had already been inducted onto the MotorSport New Zealand Wall of Fame in May, finally received his due from his home town – picking up both the International Sportsperson of the Year award and then the Supreme Award when judged against all the other category winners.
Under the judging criteria, the sports awards are not considered in a January to December cycle, but rather the accomplishments are from October 1, 2017, through until September 30 this year.
That important distinction has often governed how the judging committee decides overall winners, as many sports people who compete through the middle of the calender year obtain their biggest glory in the October to December time frame, just outside the parameters.
This was true of Bamber, because although his Le Mans victory was unable to sway the 2017 judging panel away from giving the nod to world championship-winning rowers Kerri Gowler and Chris Harris, Bamber's victory formed only part of his then still ongoing 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season.
In November 2017, Bamber and his Porsche teammates in Palmerston North's Brendon Hartley and Germany's Timo Bernhard finished runnerup in the last two races of their campaign – the 6-hour races in Shanghai and Bahrain – and in doing so clinched their World Championship by a comfortable points margin, having won four of the nine races.
That title remains the high water mark of all achievements by Whanganui sportspeople during the 2018 qualifying period, and lifted Bamber ahead of repeat nominee Gowler, who won world championship silver last year, downhill BMX racing international champion Sam Blenkinsop, and paraclimber Rachel Māia, who came fourth at her first world championships.
Bamber's mother Maureen Johnson is understood to have received the awards on his behalf.
There were a number of other feel-good awards given out last night.
White Fern spin bowler Jessica Watkin was likewise too busy to attend the awards, as overnight she was taking three wickets as her team picked up their first win at the ICC Women's World Twenty20 in the West Indies, beating Pakistan by 54 runs.
Watkin, who was determined to play for the White Ferns without having to leave Whanganui, was deserved winner of the International Junior Sportsperson of the Year after finally making her debut earlier this year on the tour of Ireland and England.
She got the nod ahead of finalists Keightly Watson (Judo) and Liam Back (cross country).
Andrew Spence's Coach of the Year award is a tale of perseverance.
For multiple seasons, Spence would prepare very talented Under 15 Boys hockey teams to attend the national championship tournament, only to be denied the title after losing the final or semifinal.
But Spence and his boys finally cracked it in October last year in Invercargill – not only winning the title, but going through all six games without conceeding a goal.
His dedication got him the prize ahead of finalists Pauline Hiroti (dance, hip hop) and the Wanganui Heartland co-coaches Jason Caskey and Jason Hamlin for completing the first ever Meads Cup three-peat last year.
While Rebecca Baker's U15 girls hockey team were not as successful at their national championship, the hockey prodigy has continued her amazing form over that time into the 2018 season.
Quite apart from her national running success, in hockey Baker helped lead the Central Under 18 team to win back-to-back national titles and has been selected in the NZ U18 hockey squad for a camp in December.
It put her ahead of fellow hockey standout Jordan Cohen and cyclist Jack Overweel, who were finalists from another stacked field of nominees.
While Baker dominates hockey at Whanganui High School, it is the Wanganui Collegiate School Sprint Relay team of Jenna Maples, Tayla Brunger, Emma Osborne, Ana Brabyn and Georgia Matson who can't be touched on the track and were named Junior Team of the Year.
The team won both the NZ Secondary Schools Junior Girls 4x100m and 4x400m events, and were fourth in the Senior.
They got the gong ahead of their rowing schoolmates in the Under Boys Double Sculls.
Senior Team of the Year was the Wanganui Bowling Club's open triples team, who saw off stiff competition for the Meads Cup-retaining Wanganui rugby side and the ultimate underdog Kaiwhaiki A1 netball side.
Dianne Patterson, Lesley Bourke and academy player Karen Hunt won local and regional qualifiers to go on and take out the Bowls NZ National Triples Championships in April.
Rower Luke Watts hit the cycle with three senior gold medals at the New Zealand Rowing Championships – single scull, double scull and coxless quad sculls – and so claimed the National Sportsperson of the Year award for another year.
In the Masters category, New Zealand Over 50's representative cricketer Martin Pennefather, soon off to the world cup, spun the judges his way, ahead of finalist Rod Bannister (squash).
NZME Services to Sport Recognition: Amanda Cornforth (Special Olympics); Andrew Murray (Football); Charlie Brown (Football, Futsal); Eddie Tofa (Boxing); Ethan Gillespie (Hockey); Jason King (Football); Lance Brown (Softball); Linda Cornforth (Special Olympics).
Rivercity Gas Disabled Sportsperson Recognition: Erin Gale (Equestrian); Judith Bradley (Indoor Bowls, Bocce); Rachel Ma¯ia (Rock Climbing, Paraclimbing); Renee Onishenko (Equestrian).
David Jones Motors Masters Award: Martin Pennefather (Cricket).
Stihl Shop Wanganui Club of the Year: Kaierau Netball Club.
Mars Petcare Coach of the Year: Andrew Spence (Hockey).
Treadwell Gordon Junior Team of the Year: Wanganui Collegiate School Sprint Relay Squad.
Ali Arc Senior Team of the Year: Wanganui Bowling Club Open Triples Team.
Stirling Sports National Junior Sportsperson of the Year: Rebecca Baker (Hockey).
NZCT National Senior Sportsperson of the Year: Luke Watts (Rowing).
Velo Ronny's Bicycle Store International Junior Sportsperson of the Year: Jessica Watkin
Mitre 10 Mega International Senior Sportsperson of the Year: Earl Bamber (Motorsport).
Ray White Supreme Winner: Earl Bamber (Motorsport).