Ken Smith (Lola T430) has won some important races and trophies in his long and successful career, but his victory in the final Tasman Grand Prix race at the second New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing – Bruce McLaren meeting at Pukekohe’s Pukehohe Park Raceway on Sunday meant more than most.
“Bruce was an old friend of mine, we went to the same school together and later on I owned his first car, the Austin Ulster, so it’s just magic to be able to win this trophy at the Bruce McLaren tribute meeting,” Smith said as a steady stream of well-wishers filed through his pit to shake his hand or pat him on the back.
Smith, 68, has now been competing at the top level of motor racing in this country for over 50 years, and was again the dominant force in the feature MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series category at the second New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing – Bruce McLaren meeting (the first was at the new Hampton Downs circuit in the north Waikato last weekend), qualifying quickest and winning all four races despite intense competition from at least five other drivers.
In the 15-lap New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing – Bruce McLaren feature race he briefly conceded the lead to fellow front row starter and 2009/10 MSC series points leader Steve Ross (McRae GM1) as the 25-strong field thundered into the first turn but was back in front before the end of the first lap and held a lead he would never lose to the chequered flag.
Early on he edged away from Ross, and maintained the gap when Ross was passed by this year’s Lady Wigram Trophy Roger Williams (Lola T332) until the Safety Car was deployed to slow the field while British visitor Mike Whatley’s prone car was retrieved.
As it turned out Whatley was able to re-start his Surtees TS8 and get going under his own steam, meaning the Safety Car could head back to the pits after just two laps.
When racing resumed Smith continued to lead Williams and Ross, albeit at a reduced pace as a shower of rain swept across the track. As the track dried Williams closed to within striking distance but Smith remained in front until the flag.
It was the eighth consecutive victory in the eight MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series races at the two New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing – Bruce McLaren meetings with Smith also setting the fastest race lap in seven of them, only relinquishing the one – in the second race at Hampton Downs last weekend – to that round’s quickest qualifier, 2007/08 MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series champion Chris Hyde (McRae GM1).
Hyde set the second quickest lap time in qualifying at this weekend’s meeting on Friday only to discover later that night that damage to his car’s engine was too great to repair in time for the weekend’s races.
Visiting British driver Mark Dwyer (Lola T332) who qualified third and claimed two second places behind Smith at Hampton Downs also had problems – in his case on and off the track – this weekend.
After setting the third quickest lap time in qualifying Dwyer was excluded from the results of the first race for passing under the yellow flag then was a late retirement in the second race – after running as high as second – with a broken half shaft. The half shaft was replaced overnight but further problems with his car’s crown wheel and pinion meant he had to join Hyde on the sidelines today.
That left Roger Williams and Steve Ross to fight over second place and Lola T332 drivers Ian Clements and Sefton Gibb disputing fourth.
Napier man Gibb got the better of Clements in the second race on Saturday and first on Sunday but decided discretion was the better part of valour when the rain came down in the final, allowing Clements to edge away and cross the line five seconds in front, albeit in this race 20 seconds behind David Abbott in the sister car to Ken Smith’s
Christchurch driver Abbott got a storming start from the third row of the grid and drove a strong race for fourth, bettering his fifths in the first and third races and eighth in the second.
With Whatley losing a lap as he sorted out what turned out to be a simple matter of flipping the fuel switch off, first Class A car home in the final MSC feature race was the Surtees TS11 of compatriot Greg Thornton, appropriately, in 11th place.
Race 3 (Sunday morning)
With Saturday’s late afternoon downpour causing flash flooding and culvert damage around the Pukekohe circuit there was a delay in proceedings on Sunday morning as makeshift repairs were made to the track.
Drizzle didn’t help proceedings prompting Roger Williams, Aaron Lewis and Paul Trevethan to sit out the race and Ken Smith to start it on wet tyres.
By the time the cars rolled around the track twice, however, the track was virtually dry, meaning – in theory anyway – that Smith was going to be at a distinct disadvantage. Obviously no-one told the wily veteran though because he rocketed away from the start to put half the length of the start/finish straight on a following Steve Ross before easing off the pace to make sure he didn’t completely destroy the only set of wet tyres he had brought with him.
Ross – who started on slick tyres – completed the race in a safe second place with a seven second buffer on a hard driving Sefton Gibb who in turn had Mike Whatley and David Abbott not far behind him.
Early on Ian Clements shadowed Gibb only to be slowed by contact with another car as he and Gibb were threading through lap traffic, the former series champion eventually crossing the finish line in eighth place.
Enjoying his best run of the meeting, meanwhile, was British visitor Daryl Taylor (Chevron B28) who finished sixth. Another to enjoy a strong run – crossing to line eighth – was prominent trucking industry identity Calven Bonney, driving his recently acquired ex Jim Murdoch/Phil Mauger/Noel Atley Begg 018.
Race 2 (Saturday afternoon)
This race was another Smith benefit, with Steve Ross tucking in behind the pole sitter as the field rumbled into the first corner leaving Mark Dwyer to fend off Roger Williams, Sefton Gibb and Ian Clements. As Smith edged away up front Ross built an early buffer on Dwyer only to have Dwyer close within striking distance then get past when Ross selected second instead of fourth gear as the pair accelerated down the start/finish straight.
Ross then proceeded to compound the error by spinning – harmlessly as it turned out – as he accelerated onto the back straight, meaning Williams was unchallenged behind Smith to the chequered flag, with Sefton Gibb getting the better of a race-long tussle for third place with Ian Clements, Ross fifth and Australian driver Aaron Lewis the best of the large group of visiting overseas drivers in sixth.
Mike Whatley was the first of the Class A competitors home in seventh with David Abbott eighth, Brett Willis (Lola T330) ninth and Greg Thornton (Surtees TS11) tenth.
Though he did not go quite as quickly as he did in the first race, the honours for fastest race lap time set again went to Ken Smith with a best lap time of 55.475
Race 1 (Saturday morning)
Smith got his weekend off to a winning start on Saturday morning, eventually leading the field across the finish line behind the Safety Car after visiting Monaco-based British driver Peter Dunn (March 73A) left the track late on the fourth lap.
Mark Dwyer shadowed Smith for the first six laps but was excluded from the results for passing under the yellow flag.
That left Steve Ross to assume the runner-up spot from Roger Williams, Sefton Gibb, David Abbott and the first of the Class A finishers, Mike Whatley.
Aaron Burson was a big mover early on, getting to sixth from 10th place before being forced out of the race with a blown head gasket. Also striking problems was Greg Thorton, Alastair Russell, Judy Lyons, Daryl Taylor and Shayne Windelburn.
After consecutive meetings at the two New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing – Bruce McLaren the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series now crosses the Tasman for the two final 2009/10 series meetings at Phillip Island and the Australian Formula 1 Grand prix meeting in Melbourne in March.
The MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series is organised and run with the support of sponsors MSC, NZ Express Transport, Bonney’s Specialized Bulk Transport, Pacifica, Toll Holdings, Smith & Davies, Avon Tyres and Exide
2009/10 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series Round 4
1. Kenny Smith (Lola T430) 55.078
2. Christopher Hyde (McRae GM1) 55.794
3. Mark Dwyer (Lola T332) 56.519
4. Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 56.690
5. Roger Williams (Lola T332) 56.758
6. Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) 57.463
7. Aaron Lewis (Matich A50) 57.683
8. David Abbott (Lola T430) 58.007
9. Michael Whatley (Surtees TS8) 58.007
10. Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) 58.307
Race 1 (8 laps Saturday)
1. Ken Smith 10.35.658
2. Steve Ross +2.959
3. Roger Williams +3.523
4. Sefton Gibb +4.088
5. David Abbott +4.567
6. Mike Whatley +5.087
7. Aaron Lewis +5.554
8. Ian Clements +6.532
9. Brett Willis +6.984
10. Calven Bonney +7.650
Race 2 (8 laps Saturday)
1. Ken Smith 7.37.851
2. Roger Williams +11.250
3. Sefton Gibb +14.696
4. Ian Clements +15.031
5. Steve Ross +19.684
6. Aaron Lewis +21.975
7. Mike Whatley +25.680
8. David Abbott +27.216
9. Brett Willis +27.583
10. Greg Thornton +27.884
Race 3 (8 laps Sunday )
1. Ken Smith 8.01.317
2. Steve Ross +4.663
3. Sefton Gibb +11.096
4. Mike Whatley +11.184
5. David Abbott +13.952
6. Daryl Taylor +14.140
7. Calven Bonney +14.670
8. Ian Clements +14.676
9. Brett Willis +35.805
10. Frank Lyons +44.811
Race 4 (NZ Festival of Motor Racing – Bruce McLaren Trophy 15 laps)
1. Ken Smith 16.32.739
2. Roger Williams +1.318
3. Steve Ross +5.698
4. David Abbott +15.798
5. Ian Clements +15.907
6. Sefton Gibb +35.811
7. Brett Willis +40.764
8. Aaron Lewis +41.436
9. Aaron Burson +46.016
10. Frank Lyons +47.724
11. Greg Thornton +48.806
12. Tim Rush +52.345
13. Hamish Paterson +54.534
14. Calven Bonney +55.647
15. Peter Burson +1 lap
16. Poul Christie +1 lap
17. Bruce Leeson +1 lap
18. Mike Whatley +1 lap
19. Bill Hemming +1 lap
20. Kerry Anderson +2 laps
dnf: Kerry McIntosh, Shane Windelburn, Daryl Taylor, Paul Trevethan, Judy Lyons.
New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series Calendar
Rnd 1: November 14-15 2009 MG Classic meeting Manfeild Feilding
Rnd 2: January 08-10 2010 Lady Wigram Trophy meeting Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 3: January 22-24 2010 NZ Festival of Motor Racing – celebrating Bruce McLaren Hampton Downs north Waikato
Rnd 4: January 29-31 2010 NZ Festival of Motor Racing – celebrating Bruce McLaren Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe
Rnd 5: March 19-21 2010 VHRR Phillip Island Classic meeting Phillip Island Australia
Rnd 6: Mar 25-28 2010 FORMULA 1? Australian Grand Prix Albert Park Melbourne Aust
[Source: NZ F5000 Assoc.; photo credit: Fast Company/Alex Mitchell]