Steve Ross led home a McRae GM1 1-2-3 in the feature McLaren Cup Formula Libre Grand Prix at the second round of the 2011/12 MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at Feilding’s Manfeild circuit on November 13, 2011 after pace-setters Ken Smith and Jay Esterer were sidelined earlier in a spectacular startline crash.
Smith proved the value of his freshly rebuilt Lola T332 on Saturday, pipping Round 1 winner Esterer (McRae GM1) in qualifying before going on to win the first race. But the pair got no further than the rolling start in the second race of the weekend this (Sunday) morning thanks to a shower of rain which swept across the Manawatu circuit as the MSC field was lining up for the rolling start.
The start lights had just gone out to signal the start of the race when Smith’s car snapped hard left on the wet track, clipping fellow front row starter Jay Esterer’s MacRae GM1 before hitting the concrete pit (outside) wall hard.
Esterer’s car also hit the pit wall and came to a stop as the field streamed past but Smith’s car glanced off it (the pit wall) and careered back across the track before coming to rest on the grass strip between the track and the inside wall.
Roger Williams, who started the race behind Esterer, missed the Canadian’s car but was himself hit from behind by one of the other cars and his Lola T332 ended up jammed against the inside wall with a broken left front wheel and suspension componentry.
Fellow Lola T332 driver Russell Greer also ended up against the pit wall, but though his car spun 180 degrees to face the way it was originally coming the only damage was to a front upright.
The race was immediately stopped then cancelled to allow track workers to remove the cars and the MSC field to re-group for the longer McLaren Cup Formula Libre feature later in the day.
Incredibly, the accident was the biggest Smith can remember – and that’s going back over 54 consecutive seasons of national level racing for the 70-year-old.
“It was a biggie, alright,”said the four-time Lady Wigram Trophy and three-time New Zealand Grand Prix winner whose only injury was a tweaked left ankle caused when his car first hit the wall. “I’ve never had one like that before.
“It was wet and the track was greasy and when I floored it at the start she just snapped sideways,” he said. “There was nothing I could do. I could see the wall coming up and I knew I was going to go in hard.”
Though he agreed it was extremely fortunate that neither he nor anyone else was injured in the accident Smith said that it was hard to see his new car so badly damaged so early in his time with it.
“That’s definitely the toughest bit, particularly knowing the time and effort Barry Miller (Smith’s crew chief) has put in since we bought it.”
In the absence of Smith, Esterer and Roger Williams the 15-lap McLaren Cup feature produced two entertaining three-car battles.
The first involved pole-sitter Stu Lush and fellow McRae GM1 drivers Steve Ross and Aaron Burson with Ross passing Lush for the lead at Turn 1 and dictating the pace from that point. Both Lush and Burson got close at times, but not quite close enough to launch an attack on Ross’ lead.
“Yep,” said Ross, “it was one of those races that was going to be won or lost on the first lap. It hasn’t been the best weekend for me for one reason or another but this was a brilliant way to end it.”
In what turned out to be a something of a race of attrition, visiting UK driver Greg Thornton (Chevron B24) earned his best result of his 2011/12 MSC series campaign so far with fourth after spending the early laps working his way past Brett Willis (Lola T330) and Sefton Gibb (Lola T332).
Willis made the initial running after Gibb admitted he messed up the start, however Willis ended up in the pits just after the half way point of the race with gear selection problems and Gibb stopped on the last lap when his car ran out of petrol.
“We’ve changed the fuel system since we last ran here and didn’t quite have enough for the full 15 laps, “Gibb explained.
Russell Greer, who managed to repair the damage to his Lola T332 after the morning’s start-line accident was next home in fifth place followed by Shayne Windelburn in fellow Aucklander John MacKinlay’s March 73A/2 with Aaron Burson’s father Peter seventh in his McRae GM1 and Dave Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) the first of the Class A category (for older model cars) runners to cross the line in eighths.
Series newcomer David Banks from Auckland (Talon MR1) was ninth and local driver Tim Rush (Begg FM4) tenth.
Race 1 (8 lap)
This was the race that Smith proved just how quick his new T332 was, converting the pole position he set in qualifying earlier in the day to a 10.79 second lead over Jay Esterer (who, in his defence, had a problem holding his car in third gear) with Roger Williams and Stu Lush third and fourth respectively.
Lush was the big surprise in qualifying, setting the third quickest time to split Esterer and Williams with Steve Ross fifth and Sefton Gibb sixth.
Lush retained his speed in the race, crossing the finish line fourth between Williams and Ross.
It was behind them that the real battle raged, however, with Gibb, Greg Thornton and Aaron Burson entertaining the large crowd with a race-long battle for sixth place only finally resolved – in Gibb’s favour from Thornton, Burson – and a catching Brett Willis – on the line.
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, Mobil Lubricants, Pacifica, Smith & Davies, Avon Tyres and Exide.
2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series
Rnd 2 Solid Gold MG Classic meeting Manfeild November 12-13, 2011
1. Ken Smith (Lola T3232) 1.02.71
2. Jay Esterer (McRae GM1) 1.02.93
3. Stuart Lush (McRae GM1) 1.03.93
4. Roger Williams (Lola T332) 1.03.95
5. Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 1.04.13
6. Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) 1.05.33
Race 1 (8 laps)
1. Ken Smith
2. Jay Esterer +10.79
3. Roger Williams +11.25
4. Stuart Lush +14.01
5. Steve Ross +15.36
6. Sefton Gibb +25.31
7. Greg Thornton (Chevron B24) +25.71
8. Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) +26.43
9. Brett Willis (Lola T330) +29.66
Race 2 (8 laps) Cancelled
Race 3 (15 laps)
1. Steve Ross 16.18.60
2. Stu Lush +0.70
3. Aaron Burson +6.88
4. Greg Thornton +20.23
5. Russell Greer +42.48
6. Shayne Windelburn +64.90
7. Peter Burson +68.93
8. Dave Arrowsmith +70.89
9. David Banks +1 lap
10. Tim Rush +1 lap
dnf Sefton Gibb, Brett Willis.
2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series – Race Calendar
Rnd 1: Nov 05/06 2011 Wigram Revival meeting, Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 2: Nov 12-13 2011 MG Classic Manfeild Feilding
Rnd 3: Jan 21-22 2012 NZ Festival of Motor Racing – BMW meeting x 1 Hampton Downs Auckland
Rnd 4: Jan 28-29 2012 NZ Festival of Motor Racing – BMW meeting x 2 Hampton Downs Auckland
Rnd 5: Feb 04/05 2012 Skope Classic meeting Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 6: March 09-11 2012 Phillip Island Classic meeting Phillip Island Victoria Australia
[Source: NZ F5000; photo credit: Fast Company/Alex Mitchell]