The countdown is on for the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing which will be held at Hampton Downs from January 20-22. This year the festival celebrates one of the legends of New Zealand motorsport, the great Kenny Smith, who at the age of 75 is still one of the frontrunners in the Formula 5000 category.
The Formula 5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series will be the feature race of the weekend and it’s a rare opportunity to see some classic cars do what they were designed to do – race flat out on the race track.
“The cars are the stars,” says David Abbott from New Zealand Formula 5000. “Some of these cars have been driven by legends of the sport. They’re big, grunty vehicles that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you hear them for the first time.”
“They’re hard to drive but they’re ferociously quick. They’re way quicker than modern day GT cars even though they’re 40 years old. We raced at Phillip Island recently and the F5000s were quicker around Phillip Island than the Moto GTs. You’re talking close to 300km/h on the straight. If you’re a petrolhead, it’s heaven.”
Cars that feature in the Formula 5000 category include some classic marques like Lola, McLaren, Begg, McRae, March, Talon and Elfin. Kenny Smith will be driving his Lola T332 HU54, the Interscope car run originally in the US by Danny Ongais, who was known as ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian.’ The car was sitting in a museum in the US for 30 years until Smith bought it in 2010 and restored it to its former glory.
Greg Thornton’s Chevron B24 is another F5000 car with some serious pedigree. The car’s original owner, British great Peter Gethin, beat the might of a combined Formula 1/F5000 field to win the 1973 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. To give you some idea of the pedigree of the field, Denny Hulme was second in a McLaren M23 F1 and James Hunt was third in a Surtees F1 car.
The recently-crowned FIA Masters Historic F1 Champion, Englishman Michael Lyons, will be making the trip from the UK to drive the 1977 Hesketh 308E. Lyons is seen by many as the odds-on favourite to claim the Formula 5000 race. He holds the lap record for the original Hampton Downs circuit which he set at the NZ Festival of Motor Racing in 2014. He was the first driver to go under a minute around Hampton Downs with a time of 59.483 in a Lola T400 HU7 Formula 5000.
Lyons will also be competing in the Historic Formula One category alongside his parents Frank and Judy Lyons who are long term supporters of the Historic Formula One category.
“We’ve brought some Historic Formula One cars to New Zealand before but there’s never been a Historic Formula One race,” says Frank. “Back in the good old days the Tasman Series attracted quite a few of the Formula One teams including Brabham, Lotus and BRM but they were mixed races. This will be the first grid made up exclusively of Historic Formula One cars. We don’t expect to have more than 10 or 12 cars on the grid but it will be quite a spectacle as we’ve got some high end cars coming from the UK. People will be blown away by these cars.”
“We did a support race at the Singapore Grand Prix two years,” says Judy. “Most of the people there thought ‘old farts, old cars’. But we had people hanging off the walls cheering on the Historic Formula One cars. They sound like proper racing cars. The 5000s have a deep, rumbling sound whereas the F1s have a much higher pitch.”
“They scream harder,” laughs Frank.
Some of the other categories at the festival include: Central Muscle Cars, Group A / Heritage Touring Cars, Formula Junior Group 1, Formula Junior Group 2, Historic Formula Ford, Libre/Historic single seater/Atlantic cars, Historic Muscle and Historic Saloon cars and European Racing Classics.
As well as a weekend of top class racing the NZFMR will also feature demo laps with Kenny Smith, a display of classic Formula 1 cars and a Show & Shine display.
For tickets and event information go to www.hamptondowns.com
Zade Quilter December 7, 2016
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