With the launch of the new Swift Sport, we wanted to follow the iconic hot hatch’s lineage back to its roots in the legendary Swift GTi.
When it comes to NZ motorsport and the history of the GTi the man to talk to is Grant Aitken. With over thirty years of high performance driving experience Grant has competed at every race circuit in New Zealand as well as Calder, Oran Park, and Bathurst in Australia. He’s rallied in New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Myanmar and Laos. Driving a Suzuki Vitara, Grant placed 1st overall in the Rally of Asia in both 1998 and 1999, and third in 2000 and 2001. He was awarded the Ron Frost Award for services to Motorsport in 2007 for creating and running the Silverstone Race to the Sky for ten years. Most importantly for this article, Grant used to drive a Suzuki GTi competitively – and still has one in his garage.
Having pushed cars to their absolute limits in the harshest driving conditions, Grant knows all about the enormous amount of extra strain it puts on a vehicle. We asked him to list the attributes of an ideal performance vehicle – purpose built for competitive driving. While light weight is first on Grant’s list, for better performance and handling, he also places a lot of value on durability and simplicity of design. “To win, first you have to finish,” he says. “And that’s what made the Swift GTi so special; legendary reliability. In fact the engine in my GTi has never been apart,” says Grant. “Here at Highlands we used a Swift GTi for the YOURLaps experience for several years – and it’s only just been retired after being thrashed around literally hundreds of laps of the Highlands circuit.”
The Swift GTi Grant still has in his collection has completed endless circuit and Rally events, winning its class in the Silver Fern Rally in 2006 and 2008. He also held on to his Suzuki Baleno which was used for the NZ Touring Car series in 1995. “I get a significant amount of enjoyment from having good machinery, and enjoy using it to effect,” says Grant with a grin.
It’s this kind of spirit, and the experience of drivers like Grant, that has guided the development of the new Swift Sport. Just like the GTi before it, it’s light, nimble, and powerful. With its BoosterJet turbo engine and new tech such as advanced forward detection, it’s destined to continue the legend.
The coming year will be another fast and furious one for Grant. His calendar’s packed with events including the Leadfoot Festival and the endurance series later in the year. He hopes to be one of the first to test drive the latest generation Swift Sport. “I am so looking forward to it,” Grant enthuses – and he’s not the only one!