Rounds 2 & 3 – F5000 Cars Compete for Coveted Historic GP Title at Taupo
Taupō International Motorsport Park was the venue for the second round of the SAS Autoparts MSC, NZ F5000 championship on the weekend of 20-22 January. In perfect weather, five cars put in impressive sub 1:30 qualifying times on the full 3.4km International circuit, the quickest of which was Grant Martin (Talon MR1/A) at 1.27.295, (circuit record for the category is held by Michael Lyons at 1:25.301), while favourite Kevin Ingram (Lola T332) failed to qualify, and withdrew on the first lap. Tony Roberts, in the ‘high wing’ McLaren M10A, was the fastest of the older Class A cars, achieving a personal best of 1.32.952.
The first of three races over the weekend saw a real battle between the top six drivers, with only one second covering their lap times. Martin came out on top but was closely followed by five cars within 13 seconds of each other. Finishing only 1 second behind Martin, returning former series title holder Brett Willis, this time behind the wheel of the new Lola T332 he debuted during the 2020/21 season, showed that he had lost none of his skills.
Race Two was the Handicap Race, and it was full of drama that kept the crowd on its feet until the end! Bruce Kett managed to just pip Russell Greer (both in Lola T332s) to the finishing post by 0.7 of a second, with Willis only 0.3 of a second behind the first two.
The Historic Grand Prix feature race was also a cracker! Grant Martin, in the Talon had the misfortune to break a front upright in practice on Friday and had driven back to Auckland, machined a spare upright, returned and installed it for Saturday. By now only eleven cars of the original 14 starters were in the running. Martin was again showing a clean pair of heels to the field until the last lap, when this time a rear upright broke going into the big sweeper. The race then came down to Willis, Glenn Richards (Lola T400), Shayne Windelburn (Lola T400) and Kevin Ingram, who finished in that order, all within three seconds. Russell Greer was in no-mans-land 18 seconds back. Tony Roberts again got the better of Toby Annabell (McLaren M10B 400-7), who was recovering from shoulder surgery, to take Class A.
As well as races for Formula 5000s, the event featured races for Formula Junior and Historic Formula Ford single seaters plus races for Historic and Heritage Touring Cars and displays of Jaguar models spanning 60-70 years of motoring in New Zealand. It also included a round of the new Formula Open series, which has historic single seaters (Pacific) mixed with the superseded Tatuus FT40 and FT50s from the Castrol Toyota International Series (now Oceania Regional), plus Formula Renault, and the more historic Formula SuperVees and Formula Suzukis. Seen as a great way for the Kiwis to have full fields and allow lots of interesting cars to keep racing, one of the founders of the series is veteran (81 years old) Ken Smith, himself with an illustrious single seater record.
Skope Classic, Christchurch
Only two weeks later the F5000s were out again at Christchurch’s freshly re-named Euromarque (nee Mike Pero) Motorsport Park and once again they were approaching lap records with young Michael Collins’ setting a pole time of 1:18.858 in his Leda GM1 001. Three-times series title-holder Steve Ross was the second quickest qualifier nearly two seconds off Collins’ pace, with Kevin Ingram’s Lola T332 fastest of the North Island visitors in third.
The first two were to dominate the first race, with a battle royal between Collins and Ross finishing in that order with a gap of 2.8secs between them and the rest of field, led by Ingram, in a tightly packed group close to half a minute behind. Grant Martin (Talon MR1/A) came in fourth, Brett Willis (Lola T332) in fifth and Glenn Richards (Lola T400) in sixth, with just three seconds separating the four cars at flag fall.
The second race for the F5000s was the usual handicap rolling start affair on Sunday morning and – again – this one did not disappoint. In fact, it had many spectators up on their feet and cheering wildly in the last couple of laps as category stalwart Russell Greer (Lola T332) drove out of his skin to maintain his lead. If only the race had been a lap or two shorter, he would have been fine, but unfortunately for Russell it was eight laps and the relentless Ross managed to just pip him at the finish line. There was some attrition in this race, which included both Collins cars, Michael’s with a misfire, and sister Anna’s with a broken spindle.
The afternoon’s feature race for the prestigious Bert Hawthorne Memorial Cup was looking in doubt, with heavy rain falling just before the racers were due out on the track, however the heat of the day soon had the track dry enough for the slick-shod single seaters to line up and take the grid.
With Ross choosing to sit the longer 12-lap feature race out, Collins was back and once again pulled away to a comfortable lead which he held to the end from a hard-trying Ingram. Third was Brett Willis (Lola T332) who had pulled out a 10-second gap to his usual rival Glenn Richards’ Lola T400.
After the race, series regular Tim Rush from Feilding was presented with the Stan Redmond Memorial Trophy for his contribution to F5000 racing and his sportsmanship, by special meeting guest, John Bowe. Tim exhibits the same sort of pace, grace and sheer, unadulterated passion and enthusiasm for F5000 racing that Redmond, one of the founding fathers both of the NZ F5000 Association and the now SAS Autoparts and MSC-sponsored NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series, did.
See more race reports in our March 2023 issue – also available in digital format
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