by Ross Mackay
For six glorious seasons in the 1970s the stock-block 5.0 litre (mostly) Chevrolet V8 F5000 category was New Zealand's national single-seater formula. Those heady days will be celebrated at the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs from January 20th-22nd when over 25 of the most memorable, most storied single-seaters to ever turn a wheel, here or anywhere else in the world, take to the track.
"There's definitely something about them," says Glenn Richards of the NZ F5000 Association, who will race his Lola T400. "They're big, they're loud, they're fast, and everyone has a story about the first time they saw them in all their glory."
Contemporary single-seaters might be faster over a single lap but none can match the full-frontal assault on the senses that is a field of kicking, bucking, snorting Formula 5000s.
"They're real racing cars," says Ken Smith, the man whose incredible, lifelong career behind the wheel is being celebrated at the festival. Having raced so many different cars and categories over a career which now spans 59 seasons of national level competition here, Smith - now 75 but showing absolutely no signs of slowing down - is perfectly placed to put his finger on just what it is that attracts fans of all ages and backgrounds to F5000s.
"People like the speed obviously, how fast they go, but I also think they like the fact that they have V8s in them, and, unlike a lot of these modern cars the difference still comes down to the driver. You still have to grab them by the scruff of the neck if you want to get a really good time out of them. And I think people appreciate that."
The NZFMR at Hampton Downs hosts the third round of the 2016/17 SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series and third (of four) round of the inaugural Trans-Tasman Challenge series.
Ken Smith will be chasing his fifth SAS Autoparts MSC title but he will be up against some stiff competition from New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Included in the mix is high profile New Zealand motor racing all-rounder Clark Proctor in his March 73A/1, and young gun Alan Dunkley in an Interscope Lola T332
Proctor has been a regular front-runner since joining the SAS Autoparts MSC series four years ago while Dunkley made a name for himself at previous Hampton Downs meetings (and subsequently at an F5000 category meeting at Laguna Seca in the US 18 months ago) with some giant-killing drives in one of the oldest cars in the category, a 'high-wing' Lola T140.
Fellow Aucklander Grant Martin is also expected to impress after sharing wins with top Australian driver Brian Sala at the opening round of the 2016/17 series at Perth's Barbagallo Raceway in October last year. Martin's MR1A is one of three of the Graham McRae-designed, US-built Talons owned by Kiwis. Up against them are father-and-son Peter and Aaron Burson in McRae GM1s while Brett Willis, Ian Clements, Ian Riley, Sefton Gibb and Russell Greer will all be pedalling Lolas.
Others series regulars on the grid include Calven Bonney in his Begg 018, fellow Begg owner Kerry McIntosh, Shayne Windelburn in his Lola T400, Tony Roberts in his high-wing McLaren M10A and Frank Karl in his McLaren M10B. Karl Zohs will be driving a Chevron B32 while also in a Chevron, in this case the 1973 Race of Champions (F1 v F5000) winning B24, is UK-based series regular Greg Thornton. Helping Thornton fly the Union Jack are another UK-based series regular, Mark Dwyer, this time behind the wheel of a Lola T332, plus first-time visitor Mike Sidgwick in the ex Jody Scheckter Trojan T101.
Last but by no means least, chasing victory in the inaugural Trans-Tasman Challenge, are Australians Paul Zazryn in a Lola T332, Bryan Sala in a Matich A50, Peter Brennan with the ex Lella Lombardi Lola T330 and Bill Hemming with his Elfin MR8A-C.
Another highlight of the festival promises to be the Trans-Tasman muscle car battle featuring over 30 cars on the grid from the local Historic Muscle Cars category and the Australian Trans-Am series. Some of the cars taking to the start line include Firebirds, Mustangs and Camaros. Historic Muscle Cars are exact replicas of those that competed in New Zealand and Australian saloon car racing and American Trans-Am racing from 1965 to 1974.
"It was an era in motorsport where the cars you saw racing on the weekend were the same cars you could buy from your local car dealership," says Dale Mathers of Historic Muscle Cars. "It's an era that has a lot of fond memories for a lot of people and instead of going golfing or fishing, we go racing in these classic cars. We do it for the love of it rather than winning races but it's a lot of fun and the cars are the stars."