Recently-crowned FIA Masters Historic F1 champion Michael Lyons, heads-up the first ever visit by historic Formula One cars to Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in January. Driving the 1977 Hesketh 308E that he used to take the Pre-1978 class of the FIA recognised series, Lyons is seen by many as the odds-on favourite to claim the inaugural Taupo Historic GP Trophy on the 28th/29th of January at the New Zealand event.
Awarded to the winner of the Race of Champions Revival that will wind-up the Sunday programme on 29 January, the Taupo Historic GP is set to become an annual fixture on the international historic motor racing calendar. The Race of Champions Revival re-creates the fascinating battles between the F1 and F5000 brigades that were held annually at England’s Brands Hatch circuit in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
While the F1s are lighter (575kg from 1973) and with lower centres of gravity, and slightly more nimble in the corners, the larger and torquier Chevrolet V8 engines of the heavier F5000s (600kg-plus by the mid-1970s) may have the edge on the two long straights at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park.
It was at Brands Hatch on March 18 1973, a day that F1 still plays-down, that double European F5000 and later Tasman Series champion, Englishman Peter Gethin, did the unthinkable, beating the F1 grandées to win the Race of Champions in an F5000 Chevron B24. Briton Greg Thornton, the 2013 FIA Masters Historic F1 champion, is bringing that very car to Taupo and no doubt will hope to emulate the historic victory of his countryman. However, he will first have to overcome Michael Lyons and his Hesketh F1.
With an astonishing race win average of 28 percent and podium average approaching 50 percent, Lyons has enjoyed success in an impressively long list of cars since his racing debut in 2007 – Historic Formula Ford, Formula Renault, British, Spanish and Italian GT, FIA and Blancpain GT3, Le Mans GTE, Formula 5000, European Le Mans LMP2, Classic Group C Sports Cars, Le Mans Legends, and of course, Masters Historic Formula One.
Achieving such a record requires versatility and the ability to jump from one type of car to another and back again on the same day. By way of example, in July this year, Lyons won four races in one weekend at Brands Hatch hopping between a Super Touring Volvo S40 and an F1 Surtees, then did the Le Mans Classic in a 3.5 litre Gebhart-Cosworth DFR, and finished off the month by contesting the Spa 24-Hours in Belgium.
In the previous year’s Spa 24 Hours, after spending his opening stint fighting with Kiwi, Shane van Gisbergen, Lyons’ race was brought to a premature halt after a mistake by one of his co-drivers at the 6 hour mark. “I got a phone call from my dad asking what’s going on. I told him we were out and he said: ‘Well, do you want to drive the Group C [Le Mans sports car] at Silverstone tomorrow?’ So I did…”.
A regular at the bi-annual Monaco Historic Grand Prix, Lyons has driven all the F1 cars that will run at Taupo in January under the Lyons Racing banner including the McLaren M26 and Surtees TS9 being brought out to NZ for the summer by father Frank and mother Judy.
“The Surtees is like an old friend,” says the youngest member of the Lyons family. “I did Monaco with it a few years ago but it’s usually my mum’s car so it was nice to have a bit of crack in it. The McLaren is a very special car, but I never seem to have any luck in it.”
“The Hesketh (308E) is probably my favourite to drive,' though. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it can do around Taupo.“
The Volvo S40 Super Touring driven with such success by Lyons at Brands Hatch in July is owned by Christchurch’s Lindsay O’Donnell and is also expected to appear at the Taupo Historic GP meeting in the four races being held over the weekend for Historic Touring Races from the 1980-1994 era.
“The Super Touring cars are incredibly well developed” says Lyons. “Although they are front-wheel-drive, the base impression of the car is quite similar to a modern GT car. The damping is fantastic, they have proper brakes and a bit of downforce. It will be great to see them on the Taupo circuit for the first ever time.”