Heading into the penultimate MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series 2012 round at Christchurch’s Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna Park the question on everyone’s lips was ‘who can beat the Lola T400 of Michael Lyons?’
The answer – emphatically – was the McRae GM1 of Steve Ross, the 2011/12 series points leader finally breaking the young British driver’s nine-race winning streak with lights-to-flag victories in both races on Sunday, February 5th, 2012.
Ross, in only his third full season in the MSC series, could well have made it three out of three too, had he not spun on oil while leading Lyons in the weekend’s first race on Saturday, February 4th, 2012.
To his credit 21-year-old second-generation racer Lyons qualified quickest and set the fastest race lap of the weekend before twice being slowed by broken valve springs, in the race he won on Saturday afternoon and again in the 12-lap Mobil1 feature on Sunday.
But you couldn’t take anything away from Ross, particularly early in the second and third races when he withstood immense pressure from Lyons to remain in front.
“I knew Michael was there, obviously,” he said, “then he started to fall back for some reason. Without knowing what that was I just kept my head down. Full credit to the Motorsport Solutions team this weekend, the car has been awesome, absolutely awesome.”
For his part Lyons was looking at the positives, though he found it hard to cover the frustration he felt about his own car not having the same sort of straight line speed as the Ross McRae.
“It would have been nice to win all the races here but you know I did win nine out of 11 so I suppose I should be happy. We got a reasonable start in the feature today but I still couldn’t fight the horsepower Steve had when we got through Turn 1. I got alongside him in a few places, more than alongside in fact, then all of a sudden the engine note changed – just like a 2-stroke really – and I knew something was wrong. We only had one valve spring to put in when we replaced the one that broke on Saturday and I think, perhaps, if we had put in a set it would have got us through the weekend.”
Second home in Sunday’s feature after his strongest series round so far was Rotorua driver Brett Willis (Lola T330). After repairing a tub lightly creased after contact at the hairpin in Saturday’s race, former Trans-Am (America) and Sports Sedan (NZ) driver Willis put in two strong drives on Sunday, finishing third behind Ross and Lyons on Sunday morning and second – after getting the jump on local fast man Ian Clements (Lola T332) – in the third.
“That’s definitely my best result so far so yeah we’re rapt,” said Willis afterwards”
Clements remained at his quick and consistent best to finish third, with Aucklander Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) fourth and Greg Thornton (Chevron B244) the best of the visiting British drivers (Michael Lyons having retired and his father Frank further back in the field in wife Judy’s Lola T332) in fifth.
Early on Willis led usual sparring partner Roger Williams (Lola T332), Clements, Burson and Michael Whatley (Lola T300). At one stage Whatley got past Burson but fuel starvation problems slowed him on parts of the circuit – particularly on the exit of the sweeper onto the start/finish straight – and he slipped back into the clutches of compatriot Thornton, then – progressively – Stan Redmond (Lola T332) and eventually Russell Greer (Lola T332), David Abbott (Lola T430) and Lindsay O’Donnell (Begg FM5).
Fuel issues also affected visiting American driver Harin de Silva, but only because his car’s tank was not big enough for the longer Mobil 1 feature. The answer, which the Los Angeles driver came up with crew chief Scott Drnek, was to only do one of the warm up laps before pitting for a top off then starting the race from the pit lane.
You could see de Silva wasn’t pushing quite as hard as he did in the shorter morning race but he still managed to make up 13 places and cross the finish line in 10th spot – not to mention complete the cool-down lap without running dry.
A little further back the other visiting American drivers Seb Coppola (Lola T182) and category original Eric Haga (Lola T190) were running in tandem until Haga spun.
“I guess I was just a little bit overambitious, Haga chuckled. ” We had some problems this morning and made some changes to the car and it was handling beautifully this afternoon,” he said. “I felt I was lapping faster than I have all weekend.”
Race 2 (8 laps)
Ross got his first win in the weekend’s second MSC series race on Sunday morning after again getting the better of his young rival into the first corner.
As he did in the first two laps of the weekend’s first race on Saturday afternoon, Lyons shadowed his every move but this time Ross didn’t put a foot wrong, the pair quickly pulling away from a fast-starting Brett Willis with Roger Williams third, Ian Clements fourth and Aaron Burson fifth.
Early on David Abbott led a multi-car, high speed freight train behind Burson, trailing Greg Thornton, Russell Greer, Chris Lambden, Harin de Silva and Stan Redmond in his wake, but on the third lap he (Abbott) slowed with what turned out to be a fuel pump problem. Frank Lyons was also an early casualty, slowing then retiring to the pits with what turned out to be a cracked right-hand front brake disc rotor.
With Abbott out Aaron Burson assumed the lead of the battlepack with Thornton seventh, Greer eighth and Lambden ninth. Series new face, Lambden – an expat Kiwi who commutes to and from rounds from his Melbourne home – was enjoying his strongest race so far though as the race went on he slipped back into the hands of impressive American visitor Harin de Silva.
“The car was really good for the first couple of laps but then it got a bit tailey and to be fair in the last couple of laps I was probably getting a bit tired too. I’m new to this of course so right now finishing races and getting miles is what matters most at the moment.”
As Lambden slowly lost touch with Greer, Harin de Silva was just getting into his stride, first catching and passing Lambden then setting his sights on Russell Greer and once he was past him, Greg Thornton. Local class stalwarts Stan Redmond and Lindsay O’Donnell also managed to find a way past Lambden, eventually crossing the finish line in 10th and 11th place respectively.
Behind Lambden came David Arrowsmith, back in the running with a new half-shaft, fellow category freshman David Banks (Talon MR1A), Aaron Buron’s father Peter in his McRae GM1, then Tim Rush in the rare McLAren M22, Australian visitor John Bryant in his freshly rebuilt Lola T140 and American visitors Seb Coppola and Eric Haga.
Race 1 (8 laps Sat)
Steve Ross showed his race-winning potential in the first MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series race of the weekend on Saturday afternoon, leading Michael Lyons for two laps before coming unstuck on oil dropped by another car as he braked for the infield right hander.
With Ross out of the way Lyons went on to win the race but not without dramas of his own, his pace slowed first by a cracked header then later by what turned out to be a broken valve spring.
As it turned out both were lucky they were able to make it to the grid, third quickest qualifier Tony Richards sidelined before he even got to start a race after damaging his Lola T332’s floor late in qualifying when he ran over a halfshaft which flew off David Arrowsmith’s Lotus 70, and early season series pace-setter Jay Esterer deciding to sit the weekend’s races out – despite lapping seventh quickest in qualifying – when he couldn’t track down and fix a persistent engine misfire. One of the other regular series front runners, visiting British driver Mark Dwyer, was another forced to take an early shower thanks to a suspension failure on Friday.
Behind Lyons, Ian Clements held a safe second place until the chequered flag, initially from Brett Willis but when he (Willis) spun the place was assumed by Frank Lyons from Roger Williams, David Abbott and Michael Whatley. Williams was the next to falter, slowing then pitting with a fuel problem.
With the bit well-and-truly between his teeth it was Ross who was the big mover though, setting the fastest race lap (despite having to thread through the traffic) on his way back up through the field. By the fifth lap he was in ninth place, by the chequered flag third, having caught and passed Frank Lyons within sight of the chequered flag.
Los Angeles resident de Silva remained the best of the three-man American contingent, eventually crossing the finish line in 10th with compatriot Seb Coppola (Lola T192) getting the better of an entertaining battle with Warwick Mortimer (Surtees TS5) a little further back to finish 16th with Eric Haga in the distinctive high-wing Lola T190 18th.
With the five New Zealand rounds of the 2011/12 MSC series now over for another season the series now crosses the Tasman for the 2022/12 final at the biennial Phillip Island Classic meeting at the Phillip Island circuit south of Melbourne on March 10-11, 2012.
2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series
1. Michael Lyons (Lola T400) 1:17.559
2. Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 1:18.176
3. Tony Richards (Lola T332) 1:20.074
4. Brett Willis (Lola T330) 1:21.369
5. Ian Clements (Lola T332) 1:21.933
6. Frank Lyons (Gurney-Eagle) 1:22.414
7. Jay Esterer (McRae GM1) 1:22.445
8. David Abbott (Lola T430) 1:22.965
9. Roger Williams (Lola T332) 1:23.417
10. Mike Whatley (Lola T300)1:23.714
11. Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) 1:24.171
12. Harin de Silva (Surtees TS8)1:24.214
13. Greg Thornton (Chevron B24)1:24.796
14. Russell Greer (Lola T332)1:24.865
15. Lindsay O’Donnell (Begg FM5) 1:25.275
16. Peter Burson (McRae GM1) 1:26.128
17. Chris Lambden (McRae GM1) 1:26.293
18. David Arrowsmith (Lotus 70)1:28.633
19. Stan Redmond (Lola T332)1:29.337
20. Tim Rush (McLaren M22) 1:30.567
21. Sebastian Coppola (Lola T192) 1:30.657
22. Phil Mauger (McLaren M23 F1) 1:30.920
23. David Banks (Talon MR1A)1:31.233
24. Warwick Mortimer (Surtees TS5)1:32.393
25. Eric Haga (Lola T190)1:35.016
26. John Bryant (Lola T140) 1:36.307
27. Judy Lyons (Lola T332) 2:11.210
Race 1 (8 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 8 laps
2. Ian Clements +16.902
3. Steve Ross +27.477
4. Frank Lyons +27.971
5. Aaron Burson +29.118
6. Mike Whatley +29.493
7. David Abbott +32.046
8. Greg Thornton +36.839
9. Russell Greer +38.517
10. Harin de Silva +39.065
11. Stan Redmond +44.024
12. Lindsay O’Donnell +46.200
13. Chris Lambden +53.013
14. Peter Burson +58.077
15. David Banks +59.049
16. Seb Coppola + 1 lap
17. Warwick Mortimer + 1 lap
18. Eric Haga +1 lap
19. Tim Rush + 1 lap
20. Judy Lyons +2 laps
dnf Phil Mauger, John Bryant, Brett Willis, Roger Williams, David Arrowsmith
Fastest lap: Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 1.19.285
Race 2 (8 laps)
1. Steve Ross 8 10:41.361
2. Michael Lyons +0.268
3. Brett Willis +25.250
4. Roger Williams +29.867
5. Ian Clements +30.067
6. Aaron Burson +40.204
7. Greg Thornton +51.421
8. Harin de Silva +51.629
9. Russell Greer +52.248
10. Stan Redmond +52.418
11. Lindsay O’Donnell +53.764
12. Chris Lambden +58.289
13. David Arrowsmith +58.818
14. David Banks +1:00.251
15. Peter Burson +1:06.556
16. Tim Rush +1 Lap
17. John Bryant +1 lap
18. Warwick Mortimer +1 lap
19. Seb Coppola +1 lap
20. Eric Haga +1 lap
21. Judy Lyons +2 Laps
dnf.David Abbott, Frank Lyons
Fastest lap: Michael Lyons (Lola T400)1:18.916
Race 3 (12 laps)
1. Steve Ross 12 laps
2. Brett Willis +29.719
3. Ian Clements +31.970
4. Aaron Burson +36.307
5. Greg Thornton +37.307
6. Russell Greer +58.022
7. David Abbott +1.05.332
8. Lindsay O’Donnell +1.08.668
9. Mike Whatley +1.10.121
10. Harin de Silva +1.14.127
11. Peter Burson +1.18.151
12. David Arrowsmith +1 lap
13. Tim Rush +1 lap
14. Frank Lyons +1 lap
15. Seb Coppola +1 lap
16. John Bryant +1 lap
17. Eric Haga +1 lap
dnf David Banks, Stan Redmond, Michael Lyons, Roger Williams, Warwick Mortimer, Chris Lambden.
NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2011 / 2012 – Race Calendar
Rnd 1: Nov 05/06 2011 Wigram Revival meeting, Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at 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 at Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 6: March 09-11 2012 Phillip Island Classic meeting Phillip Island Victoria Australia
[Source: NZ F5000 Association; photo credit: Fast Company/Alex Mitchell]