Forty-two years after winning the NZ Motor Cup trophy for the first time, Kiwi super-veteran Ken Smith (Lola T332) is still setting the pace in New Zealand’s SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series.
The NZ Motor Cup is one of New Zealand motor racing’s most prestigious – and oldest - prizes having first being awarded to the winner of the Australasian Beach Racing Championship - Howard Nattrass - at Muriwai in 1921. This weekend Smith, now 75-years-old and contesting his 60th consecutive national season of national motor racing in this country, is again one of the favourites in the historic F5000 single-seater category, the main support class to the Toyota Racing Series (TRS) at the Speedworks/HRC NZ Motor Cup meeting at the Hampton Downs motor racing circuit in the northern Waikato.
Now one of seven feature race trophies awarded to drivers contesting the annual Toyota Racing Series (TRS), the NZ Motor Cup will be awarded to the winner of the final TRS race on Sunday.
Having won it himself for the first time driving a Lola T330/2 F5000 car in 1976 then again in a Formula Pacific car in 1990, Smith says that he will obviously take an interest in who adds their name to the 97-year-old Motor Cup on Sunday.
His main focus, however, will be on the three SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series races on the undercard.
“It will have to be,” he said this week as he and crew chief Barry Williams prepared Smith’s state-of-the-art Lola T332 at his workshop at the track. “I’ve got some real competition there now.”
A gear selection issue (a bearing moved, meaning he could only select second and fourth gears not the third he needed for the circuit’s infield corners) cost him the lead and win in the Taupo Historic Grand Prix feature race last weekend. But one of the many young Kiwi drivers that Smith has mentored over the years, Aucklander Andy Higgins (Lola T332), also beat Smith to the line – albeit by just 0.265 of a second – in the second series race earlier in the day.
The other young gun in the field, 21-year-old Michael Collins (McRae GM1) from Christchurch, also twice finished third, and by dint of wins and second placings at the two earlier rounds leads the 20117/18 series points standings,
Smith likes nothing more than having someone worthy to pit his skills against, and he was positively fizzing on Wednesday as he contemplated the rematch with Higgins at Hampton Downs this weekend.
“He’s a good young steerer and he’s good to drive against, clean and hard but fair. He won’t have you off the track like some of these young blokes but he is still 100% determined to win.
“It’ll be just like when Michael Lyons (Lola T400) comes out here. It’s always better when you’ve got someone to push you and who you can push. It definitely keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.”
With three rounds down and three more – including the grand final at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit in March to go, it is still anyone’s SAS Autoparts MSC Series.
Michael Collins retained his lead after the Taupo round though with two wins and a second place Andy Higgins has leap-frogged defending SAS Autoparts MSC Series title holder Brett Willis (Lola T330) into second just 13 points shy of Collins.
The big movers, points-wise, after Taupo were Smith, who moved up six places after blowing an engine then heavy crash in a borrowed car at the opening series round, and - as a consequence - an absence at the second a week later at Manfeild, and fellow Aucklanders Glen Richards (Lola T400) who has moved up four places, and David Banks (Lola T332) who made up three.
Class A (for earlier era cars) standout David Arrowsmith also moved up three spots and is fourth overall heading to Hampton Downs after a best Taupo finish of sixth place in his unique Ford 302-powered Lotus 70.
At least 20 cars are expected to fill the SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series grid this weekend.
Included in this number are McLaren drivers Tim Rush (M22) from Feilding and Tony Roberts (M10A) from Napier, Shayne Windelburn (Lola T400), father and son Peter and Aaron Burson (both McRae GM1), and Kerry McIntosh (Begg FM2) from Auckland, former series title holder Ian Clements from Christchurch (Lola T332, Karl Zohs (Chevron B32) from Rotorua, and series new faces Tony Galbraith (Te Kauwhata, Lola T332 )and Mike Creswell (Tauranga, March 73A1) who had their debut runs last weekend at Taupo.
Another Auckland driver, Grant Martin (Talon MR1/A), is working hard to have his car at the meeting this weekend after an engine issue at Taupo. As is UK-based series regular Greg Thornton (March 75).
The 2017/18 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 Specialised Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants, Pacifica, Avon Tyres, Webdesign and Exide Batteries.
The category is one of five supporting the Toyota Racing Series at Hampton Downs this weekend. Others include the TradeZone GT3-GT4s, Nexen Tyre Mazda Pro 7s, Motul Honda Cup and Formula Libre and Historic Formula Ford.
2017/18 SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series
Series points after Rnd 3 of 6:
Michael Collins (McRae GM1) 316 points
Andy Higgins (Lola T332) 303
Brett Willis (Lola T330) 236
Dave Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) 204 *
Glenn Richards (Lola T400) 181
Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) 168
David Banks (Lola T332) 166
Grant Martin (Talon MR1/A) 156
Tim Rush (McLaren M22) 150
Tony Roberts (McLaren M10A) 149
Peter Burson (McRae GM1) 130
Ken Smith (Lola T332) 127
Clark Proctor (March 73A1) 108
14=.Shayne Windelburn (Lola T332)/ Kerry McIntosh (Begg FM2) 101
Karl Zohs (Chevron B32) 64
Mike Creswell (March 73A1) 61
Tony Galbraith (Lola T332) 56
Frank Karl (McLaren M10B) 55
Greg Thornton (March 75) 24
Russell Greer (Lola T332) 22
18=. Codie Banks (Talon MR1) 1
* 1st in Class A (for earlier model cars)