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Monday, Sep 23 03:20pm
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Formula 5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series roars back into life

With the honourable exception of current – and now five-time – title holder, 78-year-old super-veteran Ken Smith, it’s the cars that remain the stars of New Zealand’s world-leading SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series, which returns to local motor racing tracks this summer for the 17th time.

From humble – albeit solid in terms both of numbers of cars and the ambition of their owners to see them used as they were originally intended – beginnings, the series has grown to the point where it is the envy of F5000 category enthusiasts & historic single-seater event organisers the world over.

“That’s certainly the feedback we get,” says NZ F5000 Association committee member and spokesperson Glenn Richards, owner/driver of the ex-Eppie Wietzes Lola T400.

After trips in successive years to Australia – then last year – to the United States for the official US celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the category at the Laguna Seca circuit in Northern California, the coming summer season is the second in which the management committee has decided to keep dates and venues a little closer to home.

One of the main reasons is cost – because the majority of the series regulars pay all their own car, maintenance and travel bills and as Richards says, “it all adds up, particularly if you are away from your home base and/business for more than a week or two at a time.”

Another reason is that because they are now all over 40 years old, the cars not only require regular maintenance, they also need the occasional major strip down and rebuild, something which can be accomplished between summer seasons but not when they have to be packed up and shipped overseas during the traditional winter ‘off-season’ here.

As it is the demand from race meeting organisers here is stronger than ever, with five rounds between November this year and March already sorted, and a sixth – in April next year – a distinct possibility.

The 2019/20 starts for instance – with the category’s biennial return to the MG Classic meeting at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in November this year, then after a break over the Christmas/New Year period, heads north to Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park for the now annual Historic Grand Prix meeting in late January then south to Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch for the always popular Skope Classic meeting in early February.

A fortnight after that the category and series makes a long-awaited return to Invercargill’s Teretonga Park for an appearance at the revamped Classic Speedfest at Teretonga Park, before returning to the North Island for one – or at the most – two more meetings.

“With no big classic meeting planned at Hampton Down in January,” says Richards. “we’ve again accepted an invitation to run at the HRC’s big Legends of Speed meeting there in March. That makes five meetings which will be enough to make an interesting series, though we are still negotiating for a sixth-round at another circuit in April, but I probably won’t be able to confirm that either way until the New Year.”

Like a number of cars imported by enthusiast owners like Richards the Lola – T400 HU9 – he has now owned for nine years was never a famous race or series winner, but – despite only being raced period 14 times – has a fascinating back story.

Its first owner was Dutch-born Canadian Egbert (Eppie) Wietzes who contested 10 races in it in 1975 and one in 1976 before relegating it to show car status for sponsor Canadian Tire, then finally selling it in 1985 to another recent European immigrant (from East Germany this time) Horst Kroll.



Kroll followed the then-popular path of converting the car to full-body ‘Can-Am’ spec to contest the revived Canadian-American sports car series but does not appear to have raced it himself. Instead, it was driven by other Canadians, including Bill Adam, future Champ Car and IndyCar star Paul Tracy, and Jacques Villeneuve Snr, brother of the late Gilles, and uncle of namesake and Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

Like most of the current owner/drivers who are the backbone of the SAS Autoparts MSC series Richards remembers the impact the raw, V8-powered slicks-and-wings single-seater racing cars had on him when he would go to rounds of the Tasman motor racing series in his early teenage years, vowing that ‘one day’ – if he ever had the wherewithal – he would own and race one of his own.

That time did come – in 2010 – and after a global search for a car, he could call ‘his’ Richards found HU9, still in Kroll’s ownership, in Canada. A deal was done, the car shipped here and a rebuild back to race-ready order was started by Richards’ Clevedon neighbour, NZ motor racing identity, Reg Cook.

Because it was not only his first F5000 but also his first single-seater race car period, Richards also asked Cook – who had raced an earlier model Lola T300 in period – to do the Lion’s share of the driving for the first season and mentor him through the myriad set-up and racecraft issues he was sure he would face.

Since 2013, however, Richards has contested every SAS Autopart MSC series to date and now says that he wonders why it took him so long to get behind the wheel.

“While they’re not what anyone could call easy to drive, or to set-up, run and keen on top of in terms of maintenance, the feeling of satisfaction you get when you string a half-decent lap or even better a race, together makes it totally worthwhile. I’m hooked, and can see myself racing ‘Eppie’s car’ for many more years to come.”

Having sealed his fifth NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series title at the Legends of Speed meeting earlier this year, the category’s own ‘Living Legend’ Ken Smith (Lola T332) will again start a new SAS Autoparts/MSC series favourite.

He will again face intense competition, however, from category young gun Michael Collins (McRae GM1) from Christchurch, former series champion Brett Willis (Lola T330) from Rotorua, and series stalwart Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) from Auckland.

There will also be interest in how the man behind series’ sponsor SAS Autoparts, David Banks, goes in his now completely rebuilt and re-liveried (in the 1975 Interstate colours of original driver Jon Woodner) Talon MR1.

 

Photo: Geoff Ridder

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