Young gun Michael Lyons beat old hand Ken Smith to win a much anticipated F1 vs Formula 5000 Race of Champions Revival feature at the big Taupo Historic Grand Prix classic motor racing meeting today.
But bragging rights were the last thing on the just turned 26-year-old’s mind as he stood of the top step of the podium at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park. .
“Obviously it is an honour and it is fantastic to win a prestigious race over here, but you know, it means more to me to be able to have such a great battle with Ken. That’s what it’s all about, that’s why we do this.”
Speculation ahead of the race had Lyons, entered in the Hesketh 308E he won the Pre-78 FIA Historic Formula 1 world title in last year, as joint favourite with Smith, the 75-year Kiwi Supervet and man to beat in New Zealand’s world-leading SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series.
True to form Lyons dominated the Historic Formula 1 class races at the meeting, first in the Hesketh, then today in the McLaren M26 his father Frank usually drives after the Hesketh was side-lined with a leaking water pump.
For his part Smith was also again the quickest of the F5000 class runners though in the first of the two SAS Autoparts MSC class races today he was beaten by a fast-starting Mark Dwyer (Lola T332) and a determined Clark Proctor (March 73A-1).
Smith was back in front. however, in the third series’ race and joined fastest qualifier Michael Lyons on the front row of the grid later in the afternoon for the 10-lap Race of Champions Revival, a race based on similar F1 vs F5000 ones run in Great Britain in the early 70s.
Though a stock-block 5.0 litre Chevrolet V8-powered Chevron B24 (a car which started today’s race in the hands of UK-based local series regular Greg Thornton) beat the M23 Formula 1 McLaren of the late Denny Hulme to win the 1973 race at Brands Hatch, the lighter, more nimble Formula 1 cars won the others – and so it was today.
Despite leaving the rolling start side-by-side it was pole man Lyons in the McLaren M26 F1 car who emerged from the first corner in front. Smith stayed close enough to briefly grab the lead at the start of the second lap when Lyons had trouble selecting third gear on the start/finish straight. But when the young Brit had sorted that issue out he was quickly back in front of Smith then edged away into a lead he would never lose.
For his part Smith eased ahead of Clark Proctor and the close running Formula 1 cars of Irishman James Hagan (ex James Hunt Hesketh 308) and Andrew Beaumont (ex Ronnie Petersen Lotus 76).
They in turn built an early buffer on Greg Thornton (before he pulled out with gear selection issues) and a mid-field battle pack initially led by Grant Martin (Talon MR1A F5000) and including Glenn Richards (Lola T400), Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) , Russell Greer (Lola T332), Ian Clements (Lola T332), David Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) and Paul Zazryn (Lola T332).
Just behind them Shayne Windelburn (Lola T400), Chris Atkinson (Surtees TS8) and Peter Brennan (Lola T330) engaged in their own private battle for 12th spot.
Martin spinning off the track on the entrance to the back straight elevated Glenn Richards and the two battle packs a place from the fifth lap, and when Thornton pitted Richards inherited sixth place behind the duelling F1 cars of Hagan and Beaumont.
No racing driver likes being beaten of course but after the race Smith was the first to congratulate Lyons.
“It honestly doesn’t worry me,” he said. “We all know that Michael is very talented and at the end of the day we had a good battle. That’s what I drive for and I just love driving with the guy. You can run wheel to wheel with him and he’s never going to run you wide or anything. It’s what keeps me racing, not being way out in front every time I go out and having no one to race with.”
Brett Willis (Lola T330), from nearby Rotorua, was the big improver earlier in the day in the third SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 series race of the weekend, taking maximum advantage of his position on the outside of the grid to slot into second place behind early leader Clark Proctor.
Pole man Ken Smith slotted Willis back to third on the first lap but Willis retained an edge over second race winner Mark Dwyer (Lola T332) until the chequered flag. Proctor retained the lead until the fourth lap when Smith finally found a way past then pulled away.
Behind Smith, Proctor and Willis, Mark Dwyer held fourth with a gap back to Australians Bryan Sala and Paul Zazryn then Grant Martin and a close-running midfield battle pack led by Aaron Burson from Glenn Richards, Ian Clements, Greg Thornton and Russell Greer, David Arrowsmith, Peter Brennan and Shayne Windelburn.
Earlier in the day it was Mark Dwyer who won the second SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 race after an enterprising move around the outside of both Smith and fellow front row starter Clark Proctor through the first corner.
Smith toughed it out to hold on to third place before wrestling second back off Proctor at the start of the second lap and Dwyer at the end of the fifth.
However, in getting past Proctor the pair had touched, bending a front wing out of shape.
Just as it looked like he could keep his winning record intact, Smith went wide exiting the infield left-hander.
“I was carrying too much speed and with less downforce it just wouldn’t turn in,” said Smith.
Though he made it through the corner Smith lacked the usual momentum to accelerate off it, allowing Dwyer to jink past and get back in front.
As if to add insult to injury, Clark Proctor was also able to take advantage, despatching Smith back to third under brakes at the end of the back straight, the order at the line, Dwyer, Proctor, Smith, Bryan Sala, Grant Martin and Brett Willis.
David Banks, unfortunately, was a non-starter due to a broken part on his car’s fuel injection system and Peter Burson was a late race dnf with an oil pump issue.
Having started from the rear of the grid thanks to a dnf in the Saturday race, Greg Thornton made it up to 13th place, finishing literally under the wing of 12th placed Russell Greer.
The two Formula One races run today were won by Michael Lyons behind the wheel of the McLaren M26, the first from James Hagan and Tommy Dreelan (March 761) and Michal Lyons’ racing Mum Judy (Surtees TS9) and the second from Dreelan, Andrew Beaumont and Judy Lyons.
Andrew Beaumont was an early retirement in the first race when his car’s brakes locked up when a stray bolt on the cockpit floor jammed the brake pedal on, and James Hagen pulled out of the second to make sure his overheating car would be able to make the grid (which it did) for the Race of Champions Revival feature.
The 2016/17 SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series is organised and run with the support of sponsors SAS Autoparts, MSC, NZ Express Transport, Bonney’s Specialised Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants, Pacifica, Avon Tyres, Webdesign and Exide Batteries.