Ken Smith won his fourth SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series race of the season on the opening day of competition at the inaugural Taupo Historic GP this afternoon.
The big story ahead of tomorrow’s F1 vs F5000 Race of Champions Revival feature race, came earlier in the day, however, as reigning FIA Masters Historic Formula One Pre-78 champion Michael Lyons threw down the gauntlet with a 1:23.235 lap in his Hesketh 308E F1 car.
Smith was again the quickest of the F5000 class runners with a best lap of 1.25.559, a second-and-a-half quicker than the next best SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 class time, but just over two seconds slower than the ultimate Lyon’s F1 class lap.
Ahead of the meeting Smith said that Lyons would be the driver to watch around the 3.320km Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park circuit and that was definitely the case in qualifying.
Unfortunately the just-turned 26-year-old was a late scratching in the first F1 race of the weekend with a leaking water pump so the large crowd at the track was not given the opportunity to see if his low 1: 23 qualifying mark was sustainable in racing conditions.
Smith on the other hand had eight laps in the first SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 series race to see how close he could get to his mid 1: 25 qualifying mark with his best race lap – as he eased away from fellow front row starter Clark Proctor (March 73A-1) and eventual third place-getter, Australian visitor Bryan Sala (Matich A50/51) – a low 1: 26, just half a second off his best qualifying effort.
Smith and Proctor were neck-and-neck after the rolling start but the 75-year-old supervet claimed a lead he would never lose between the first and second turns, pulling away from Proctor – who was lucky to even make the grid after a half shaft failure in qualifying – and Sala, with Brit Mark Dwyer (Lola T332) passing Kiwi Grant Martin (Talon MR1A) for fourth as the field streamed up the hill through Turn 3 to Turn 4.
Greg Thornton, driving the 1973 Race of Champions-winning ex Peter Gethin Chevron B24, shadowed Martin for a couple of laps before slowly slipping back into the clutches of Brett Willis, while Aaron Burson made the most of a strong qualifying performance to hold eighth until a close following David Banks got a better run past a lapped car to claim the position for himself.
Behind them Glenn Richards (Lola T400) led a seven car battle pack which consisted of Ian Clements (Lola T332) David Arrowsmith (Lotus 70), Paul Zazryn (Lola T332), Russell Greer (Lola T332), Peter Brennan (Lola T330) and visiting British driver Chris Atkinson (Surtees TS8).
All were consistently lapping in the 1:30 second bracket with in most cases less than a second separating each car, making for a colourful high-speed conga line round the flowing Taupo circuit.
Behind them in turn, came Peter Burson in his McRae GM1, Frank Karl (McLaren M10B), Mike Sidgewick (Trojan 101), Kerry McIntosh in the NZ-built Begg FM2, and series newcomer Karl Zohs (Chevron B32).
That’s the way the race order stayed, too, until with two laps to go Greg Thornton pitted with gear selection issues and Shayne Windelburn (whose Lola T400 had stalled on the formation lap) re-joined the race for the last four laps and was credited with 21st place.
With Michael Lyons a non-starter thanks to a leaking water pump, and Lotus 76 driver Andrew Beaumont also forced to sit it out because of a leaking oil cooler, the first Formula one race of the weekend turned into an entertaining scrap for the lead between Irishmen James Hagan in the ex James Hunt Hesketh 308-10 and Tommy Dreelan in the ex Arturo Merzario March 761 with Frank Lyons third in his McLaren M26.
“That was really good fun,” Dreelan said afterwards.” It’s a tricky track but its good and the weather today is fantastic. Hopefully the others will get back out tomorrow.”
After swapping the lead several times during the ten lap race it was James Hagan who prevailed, though the margin at the chequered flag was just 0.325 of a second.
“I had a brilliant time,” he said. “I love it here, the people are so friendly and they can’t do enough for you.”
Tomorrow brings two more races apiece for both F5000 and F1 groups ahead of the combined 14-lap Race of Champions Revival feature timed to start at 4.19pm.
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.