With a lights-to-flag victory in the feature race at the annual NZ Festival of Motor Racing meeting at Hampton Downs on Sunday afternoon Kiwi racing supervet Ken Smith (Lola T332) made dominating the third round of the 2016/17 SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series look easy.
Afterwards though the 75-year-old said it was anything but.
“It might look it from the outside when you are that far in front, but I was giving it 110 percent out there, don’t you worry about that.”
Smith, a three-time winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix, four-time winner of the SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series, and now contesting his 59th consecutive season at a national was the featured driver at this year’s Festival meeting, and he didn’t disappoint.
As well as qualifying quickest and setting the fastest race laps in all three SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 category races he won all but one of the races in the two other categories he contested in other cars, Formula Libre and Historic Formula Ford.
His performance in the feature 12-lap SAS Autoparts MSC race mirrored that in the other two over the race weekend. After early challenges from Mark Dwyer (Lola T332) and Clark Proctor (March 72A/1) Smith put the hammer down and eased away as those behind him tussled over the minor places.
“The car was going good, and handling well but I did back off a bit towards the end when I saw how far back the other two were,” he said.
The Festival meeting was a first on the new 3.8km International circuit for Smith though you would never have guessed it.
“It took me a while to get my head around, but now I’ve done some laps round the place I’ve got a better handle on it,” he said.
Clark Proctor drove a strong race in the feature to finish second, though Mark Dwyer, who followed Smith home in the first two SAS Autoparts MSC Series races at the event, closed dramatically on the last two laps and crossed the finish line just 0.115 of a second behind.
Grant Martin (Talon MR1A) held fourth place and did a great job fending off advances from the first of the visiting Australian drivers, Paul Zazryn (Lola T332), only to slip down the field later on after contact with Brett Willis (Lola T330).
Willis was the big improver in the feature race, working his way forward from eighth to fourth at the flag.
“I enjoy the longer races and the car was coming to us all the time,” he said. “Another couple of laps I might have got one more (place).”
Australians Bryan Sala (Matich A50/51) and Peter Brennan (Lola T330) were both in the wars however, Sala losing time and track position in an early tangle which knocked his car’s left-hand front wing askew, and Brennan completing the race without the use of third gear.
“Just one of those things,” said the Melbourne man, “I lost third gear driving out of pit lane so all the important bits where you needed to be in third I was doing in fourth.”.
Earlier in the day both Dwyer and Proctor managed to get around Smith through the first two corners at the start of the second SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 race of the weekend. Smith was up for the challenge, however, dispatching the pair before either could get away and easing away until the Safety Car came out on the fourth lap after Ian Riley (Lola T332) spun avoiding another car exiting the final corner and ended up in the barriers on the inside of the circuit.
Dwyer then jumped Proctor for second place when the track went green with just the one lap to go, the order at the chequered flag Smith, Dwyer, Proctor, Martin, Paul Zazryn and David Banks (Talon MR1).
Earlier Russell Greer (Lola T332) and Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) tangled through Turn 1, Greer pulling off the track between Turns 1 and 2, Burson continuing to the pits to check for damage. Glenn Richards (Lola T400) had a half spin, meanwhile, through the new double apex corner linking the International and National circuits but was able to continue and work his way back up to 13th place at the flag.
Best of the first-time British visitors across the three SAS Autoparts MSC races was Chris Atkinson (Surtees TS8) who finished 13th in the first race, ninth in the second and 10th in the third.
Heading into the weekend category young gun Alan Dunkley (Lola T332) was quickest in both practise sessions on Friday and joined Smith on the front row of the grid for the first category race on Saturday.
Dunkley then edged ahead of the 75-year-old to lead the first two laps. Smith got back in front to lead the third lap, however, and Dunkley slowed then pulled off the track three laps later with an engine issue which was to spell an early end to his race weekend.
Mark Dwyer inherited second after a race-long duel with Clark Proctor and Grant Martin started and finished fourth
SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 series action now heads to Taupo for the inaugural Taupo Historic meeting and F1 vs F5000 Race of Champions re-enactment race next weekend.
Hampton Downs circuit owner Tony Quinn said today that the Ken Smith tribute meeting was one of ‘the best ever’ and next year the Festival meeting will celebrate Bathurst.
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 Specialized Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants, Pacifica, Avon Tyres, Webdesign and Exide Batteries.