Two famous New Zealand motor racing surnames will headline this weekend’s revival of the B&H 500 at Pukekohe with Mark Leonard and Peter Sprague set to contest the popular production car event.
Mark is the son of Leo Leonard, a seven-time winner of the Benson and Hedges 500 event. A household name of the endurance classic, the race was often called ‘the Leo Leonard benefit’ as he won in a wide variety of machinery which included Vauxhall Victors, Valiant Regal V8s and a Chrysler Charger.
Leonard went on to compete at Bathurst on eight occasions with a best result of fifth. He was reported to have been offered a full-time gig in Australia but turned it away in favour of racing in New Zealand.
Peter, meanwhile, is the grandson of the late Ernie Sprague. Partnered with Leo Leonard, Sprague dominated the 500-mile race on multiple occasions, the two said to tactically outfox their opposition en route to victory each year.
The 1969 rendition of the race had Sprague and Leonard’s Vauxhall Victor outgunned by the horsepower advantage of the Valiant V8s However, the two patiently bided their time, aware that the final few hours of the race would see the V8s run out of brakes and have to pit for repairs.
They ultimately won the race, their second as co-drivers.
Their most memorable win, however, came in 1970 after Leonard came unglued in the old ‘loop’ section that opened the lap. Stuck on the damp infield, Leonard used several sacks he kept in the boot and part of his race suit which he tore off to provide the rear wheels with enough traction to return to the circuit.
Sprague then took over the wheel and charged from 28th to first.
Now, the next generation of the Leonard and Sprague name will be aiming to replicate similar success this weekend for the second revival of the B&H race. They will form a four-driver team with Chris O’Driscoll and Adam Carpenter in a Honda Integra in class 3.
“It is fantastic to have the Leonard and Sprague name racing in the same car this weekend,” said event organiser John Tomlin.
“You know, Leo has won the race several times. He is like our Peter Brock. And Ernie was a fantastic driver, everyone enjoyed watching him race.
“It should be great having Mark and Peter racing together.”
The race will be held on Sunday, October 25. It will use the traditional full-back straight configuration of the Pukekohe Park circuit.
The main act will be the 500-mile (or 6 hours- whichever comes first) race with zero restrictions on driver changes and pitstops. All cars will run standard production car racing regulations.
There will also be a shorter 100-mile race before the main event for cars that comply with the Improved Production Cars regulations.