What better way to celebrate the life of local motor racing legend, the late George Begg, than with a grid full of the F5000 cars the noted engineer and racing car builder from Drummond held most dear at the annual classic racing meeting, now named in his honour, at Invercargill’s Teretonga Park this weekend.
The new-look George Begg Classic Speedfest has attracted bumper entries across all classes from all over the country and is on track to becoming the biggest event on the Southland Sports Car Club’s annual motor racing – not to mention social - calendar. Before New Zealand and Australia adopted the simple, effective stock-block 302 cu in ‘wings-and-slicks’ formula that became known here as Formula 5000, and Formula A in the United States, the 2.5 litre ‘Tasman’ formula meant that if you wanted to compete you had to ‘buy’ an existing ex-works car..
The move to a stock-block engine formula might have ended a ‘Golden Weather-like’ period when the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart turned up in 2.5 litre versions of their then current F1 cars. But it also opened the series up to an all-new group of talented all-round designer/builder/drivers like our own Graham McRae and Australia’s Frank Matich, and designer/builder/entrants like George Begg here, and the man behind Australia’s Elfin marque, Garrie Cooper, in Adelaide.
Begg built several F5000 cars, including the FM2 then FM4, FM5 and 018. The 018, as originally raced by Jim Murdoch, and ex David Oxton and Allan McCully FM5s, are on display at the new George Begg Bunker in the Motorcycle Mecca building in Invercargill’s Tay Street. Current owners, Terry and Tim Rush, are also bringing the Begg FM4, originally raced by Geoff Mardon then David Oxton, with them to display at the new-look George Begg Classic Speedfest meeting at Teretonga Park over the weekend.
Set to contest the fourth round of this season’s SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at the meeting, meanwhile, are 16 beautifully restored and race-prepared Formula 5000 racing cars, including two of the most iconic, the Leda LT27s designed by Wellington-born Kiwi racing great Graham McRae and now owned by Queenstown man Alistair Hey and his partner Vicki.
Driving the blue-and-yellow-striped white 004 car (#94) is runaway series points leader, Michael Collins from Christchurch, while behind the wheel of the distinctive fluro-pink STP-liveried Leda LT27 001 (#22) which Graham McRae started the line with, and used to win the Tasman Series back in 1972, is Southland’s own LeRoy Stevenson.
Also on the grid this weekend are the two later model but visually identical McRae GM1s belonging to three-time former series champ Steve Ross (#5) from Dunedin and series regular Aaron Burson from Auckland.
Alistair and Vicki Hey also owned the car Steve Ross now drives, build number 009 at the McRae Cars factory in the UK, when Christchurch ace Chris Hyde won the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival title in 2008 in it. Steve Ross then went on to win the series three more times - in 2012, 2013 and 2015 - making McRae GM1 009 the single-most successful car in the 16-year history of the world-leading local now SAS Autoparts and MSC-backed NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival historic motor racing series.
Buoyed by the success he enjoyed with the 009 McRae GM1, Hey sought out others to breathe new life into, his next project the car Michael Collins now drives, Leda LT27 004. Originally purchased from the factory as a spare car for top US driver Evan Noyes’ use in 1973 it then passed through a number of hands before being acquired by Auckland classic racer Roger Williams, then Hey.
Once in his possession, Hey commissioned a complete ground-up rebuild by Graham McRae (who had returned home to live in the late 1980s) around a ‘tub’ (monocoque) restored by world-renowned specialist Steve Roberts from Whanganui and using suspension components crafted by Ed Vaughan and an engine built to McRae’s specifications by US specialist Marcovicci-Wenz Engineering.
Since being offered the drive in 004 Christchurch ace Michael Collins has been a regular race winner in it, and he and his father Mark now prepare and run the car themselves. Michael, in fact, is the current F5000 category lap record holder at Teretonga, having re-set the benchmark a year ago (this Sunday) at last year’s Evolution Motorsport Classic Speedfest with a best lap of 53.762.
Only the day before, former Invercargill/now Queenstown-based LeRoy Stevenson, had already lowered Clark Proctor’s previous F5000 class benchmark – a 54.478 set in 2013 - with a 54.454 in the original Leda LT27 001 Graham McRae used to dominate the 1972 Tasman Series and 1972 US Formula A championship.
That car was burnt out in a trailer fire after McRae had sold it to Wellington racer Dexter Dunlop, but Hey commissioned a rebuild around what parts remained, including a number supplied by the original owner, the Heynes family, from the UK, and McRae Cars Ltd.
Hey describes the process, as ‘a real team effort,’ with the tub constructed by Burkes Metalworks in Christchurch, fibreglass components re-created by Don Weir, fabrication and assembly by Motorsport Solutions and - as with the rebuild of the 004 car - ‘a huge amount of input and help from (Auckland-based classic racing car specialists) Duncan Fox and Tony Roberts of Group 7 Sportscars.’
Joining the two Ledas and two McRaes on the grid this weekend are a line-up of Lolas – like the Lola T332s of Codie Banks, Kevin Ingram, and Aussie Paul Zazryn, and T400s of Glenn Richards and Shayne Windelburn, plus a pair of Talon MR1s to be driven by David Banks and Grant Martin, and trio of McLarens for Tony Roberts (a classic high-wing M10A), Frank Karl (McLaren M10B) and Tim Rush (an M22).