Ken Smith and fellow MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival series fast-man Steve Ross both had reason to celebrate after the final round of the 2014/15 series at the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting, staged February 13-15, 2015 at Manfeild circuit in Feilding, New Zealand.
For three-time former series title holder Smith, 73, from Auckland, it was a new category lap record and his third round clean-sweep of the season driving his Lola T332. For southern man Ross, a relative youngster compared with Smith at just 58 years of age, it was winning the MSC F5000 series for a third time with his McRae GM1.
“Not a bad result, was it?,” Smith said as he was surrounded by well-wishers after winning the feature race MSC race, held just before the 60th annual New Zealand Grand Prix, a race won by Canadian Lance Stroll, a mere 57 years his junior.
A three-time winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix himself, Smith arrived at the meeting keen to further lower the F5000 category lap record – 1.01.770 – he set two years ago.
He and Ross both lapped under it in qualifying on Saturday morning but only Smith was able to beat it in a race, Smith winning the second eight lap prelim on Sunday morning with a best lap time of 1.01.629.
Ross got the jump on Smith off the rolling start of that race – after Smith admitting baulking a gear change – but the Dunedin man only managed one lap in the lead before Smith made up the deficit, scathed past and started pulling away.
With Smith only contesting three of the six rounds of this season’s trans-Tasman series, he was never in the running for a fourth series title, however.
Ross did do every round and after a dominant performances of his own – in Smith’s absence – at the penultimate series round at the Skope Classic meeting in Christchurch, a record-equalling third MSC title was his for the taking before his McRae GM1 even turned a wheel.
Despite that Ross showed in qualifying, where he was the only other driver outside Smith to break the 1.02.000 barrier, that he was going to fight for every point, and fight he did, grabbing the lead in the morning race, then being forced to work his way back up through the field after an early passing move in the 12-lap final went wrong.
“We’ve always raced to win championships,” the New Zealand Pre-1965, Osca and TranZam class title holder said as he helped pack his car for the return trip south. “In an ideal world you win races too, but Kenny’s a hard fellow to beat anywhere, and when he’s on his favourite circuit he was obviously hot to trot, but you know, we gave it a good go!
For the record, Ross’s brand of speed, consistency and commitment to do all six rounds of this season’s MSC series saw him add the 2014/15 title to those he won in 2011/12 and 2012/13 with a final score of 764 points, 271 more than Russell Greer from Blenheim in his ex-Graeme Lawrence Lola T332 (493) and 335 more than third placed Greg Thornton in his freshly rebuilt ex Sam Posey Surtees TS11.
Greer, who stepped up to contest the MSC series after an early career rallying and later interest in historic racing, was ‘over the moon’ with second in the series points standings, paying tribute to Christchurch preparation specialist John Crawford and his team from Motorsport Solutions who have run the car for Greer this season.
“I’ve actually more than achieved my goal. I set out to try and get a good result but never dreamed I’d get up to second. I got quite a few good results this season but really the main thing was being consistent.”
Greg Thornton was also well pleased with third place in the series points standings, having rebuilt his ex-Sam Posey Surtees TS11 from the ground up after it was badly damaged in a workshop fire two years ago, and made the commitment to commute back and forward from his base at Stansted Airport north of London to rounds of the MSC series here and in Australia.
“I’m really pleased about finishing third in the series,” he said. “It (the Surtees) is such a brilliant car. It’s one of the earlier ones, built as an F1 car in 1970 then converted to F5000 spec in 1971. The engine’s solid rather than quick but it’s very good under brakes and very nimble in the wiggly stuff, so it’s been very good here.”
Both races were entertaining affairs with Smith, Ross and defending series title holder Andrew Higgins (Lola T400) locking out first-through-third places, Greg Thornton holding a watching brief in fourth, and a battle royal for fifth through tenth placings involving Russell Greer and Sefton Gibb in their evenly-matched Lola T332s, Brett Willis in his similar Lola T330, and another closely matched pair in Aaron Burson (Talon MR1A) and Calven Bonney (Begg 018).
Also looking strong was one of the MSC series’ originals, Shayne Windleburn who, after sorting a brake issue with his Lola T400, spent both races moving forward, ending up 10th in the race in the morning and ninth in the feature in the afternoon.
With the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series over for another year, the series regulars are looking forward to joining their American counterparts at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca in northern California between August 12-16, 2015.
F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2015 – New Zealand Grand Prix Qualifying
1. Ken Smith (Auckland, Lola T332) 01:01.325
2. Steve Ross (Dunedin, McRae GM1) 01:01.541
3. Andrew Higgins (Auckland, Lola T400) 01:02.441
4. Greg Thornton (Auckland, Surtees TS11) 01:03.893
5. Russell Greer (Blenheim, Lola T332) 01:04.063
6. Sefton Gibb (Napier, Lola T332) 01:04.822
7. Brett Willis (Rotorua, Lola T330) 01:04.968
8. David Banks (Auckland, Talon MR1) 01:05.009
9. Aaron Burson (Auckland, Talon MR1A) 01:05.337
10. Calven Bonney (Auckland, Begg 018) 01:05.639
11. Stuart Lush (Auckland, McRae GM1) 01:05.799
12. Glenn Richards (Auckland, Lola T400) 01:06.854
13. Shayne Windelburn (Auckland, Lola T400) 01:09.058
14. Tony Roberts (Auckland, McLaren M10A) 01:09.693
F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2015 – New Zealand Grand Prix Race 1 (8 laps)
1. Ken Smith 08:25.298
2. Andrew Higgins +01.119
3. Steve Ross +01.973
4. Greg Thornton +20.167
5. Sefton Gibb +23.768
6. Russell Greer +24.197
7. Brett Willis +27.528
8. David Banks +28.598
9. Calven Bonney +30.741
10. Aaron Burson +31.961
11. Stuart Lush +41.562
12. Tony Roberts +55.337
13. Glenn Richards +55.859 3
14. Shayne Windelburn +2 laps
F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2015 – New Zealand Grand Prix Race 2 (8 laps)
1. Ken Smith 08:21.033
2. Steve Ross +03.622
3. Andrew Higgins +06.741
4. Greg Thornton +18.112
5. Brett Willis +21.600
6. Russell Greer +22.842
7. Sefton Gibb +24.744
8. Calven Bonney +34.630
9. Aaron Burson +35.176
10. Shayne Windelburn +37.700
11. Glenn Richards +43.710
12. Stuart Lush +47.113
13. Tony Roberts +01:07.873
DNS. David Banks
F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2015 – New Zealand Grand Prix Race 2 (12 laps)
1. Ken Smith 12:36.899
2. Andrew Higgins +8.629
3. Steve Ross +24.048
4. Brett Willis +25.510
5. Greg Thornton +25.919
6. Sefton Gibb +27.009
7. Russell Greer +34.535
8. Aaron Burson +41.765
9. Shayne Windelburn +44.013
10. Calven Bonney +52.146
11. Stuart Lush +53.582
12. Tony Roberts +1 lap
13. Glenn Richards +2 laps
DNF. David Banks
Final series points after 6 of 6 rounds (provisional)
1. Steve Ross (Dunedin/McRae GM1) 764 points
2. Russell Greer (Blenheim, Lola T332) 493
3. Greg Thornton (Stansted UK, Surtees TS11) 429
4. Paul Zazryn (Melbourne Aust, Lola T332) 407
5. David Banks (Auckland, Talon MR1) 402
[Source: New Zealand Formula 5000 Association; photos: Fast Company / Lyall Chinnery]