A veritable galaxy of star drivers led by ‘Gentleman Jim’ Richards is set to descend on Christchurch’s Mike Pero Motorsport Park this weekend.
The all-star field will see legends of a bygone era help the 20-plus owner/drivers contesting the second round of this year’s Archibald’s Historic Touring Car Series.
This weekend they’ll celebrate the 30th anniversary of New Zealand’s biggest classic motor racing meeting, the Skope Classic.
Richards heads a four-strong contingent of ‘pro’ drivers who will join with 21 series regulars on the grid at the Skope Classic over the weekend.
The 72-year-old all-rounder will again be behind the wheel of the Group C-spec 1982 BMW 635i he drove in period for the late Frank Gardner’s factory-backed JPS BMW team across the Tasman.
Among a myriad of other achievements, Richards has won the Bathurst 1000 seven times and the Targa Tasmania tarmac motor rally eight times.
That car, as well as the later model ex-Gianfranco Brancatelli/Johnny Cecotto Group A BMW E30 M3, is owned by keen Historic Touring Car Association member Peter Sturgeon from Christchurch.
This weekend it will be in the hands of four-time Bathurst 1000 winner and now Virgin Australia Supercars Championship TV pundit Greg Murphy.
Though he says he still gets a huge buzz driving the cars himself, Sturgeon reckons that these days, he gets as big a thrill seeing drivers like Richards and Murphy in and out of them at meetings like the Skope Classic.
“Every time Jim jumps in the car it is a pleasure to watch him, and it’s a pleasure to watch other people’s reaction when they see him in it,”he said.
“He’s such a great ambassador for our sport. He talks to fans of all ages, and he gives them his full attention, so you can see why they call him ‘Gentleman Jim.’”
Joining his father on the grid this weekend is son Steven Richards, the now 47-year-old five-time Bathurst 1000 winner is down to drive the late-model Volvo S40 Super Tourer now owned by Christchurch businessman Lindsay O’Donnell.
Steven has an extensive race CV in Super Tourers, having raced an Alfa Romeo 156, a Honda Accord and a Nissan Primera for the Gary Rogers Motorsport squad in the Australian Super Touring Championship from 1995 to 1997.
It was his father Jim, who gave the O’Donnell S40 its most important race result, however – winning the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000 race with Swedish driver Rickard Rydell.
Steven and his co-driver Matt Neal finished second in a Nissan Primera just two seconds behind, though, in one of the closest finishes in the iconic Australian event’s history.
The youngest of the Richards clan, Clay, will join the ranks too in the Formula Libre field. At just 19 years old, Clay has hopes of racing in the national Formula Ford ranks in Australia.
The other star being united with one of his cars from the period is Paul Radisich, the now 57-year-old from Thames entered in the 1994 Ford Mondeo Super Tourer, which he drove to victory in the 1994 Touring Car World Cup event at Donington Park in the UK.
The car is now one of a number of historically significant Ford Mondeo Super Tourers and NZTC-spec Ford Telstars owned by Invercargill businessman Scott O’Donnell, who this weekend will be behind the wheel of his rare 1995 Wolf Motorsport (Germany) 5-door hatchback model.
With the Trust Aoraki Thunder Down Under motor racing meeting at Timaru’ Levels Raceway hosting the opening round of this year’s three-round Archibald’s Historic Touring Car series just last weekend, it’s not hard to come up with a form guide for this weekend’s Skope Classic meeting.
That said, the fact that there were three different winners across the three races – Stu Rogers (Gp A Nissan Skyline BN-R32 rep), Arron Black (Gp A BMW E30 M30 and Scott O’Donnell (Ford Mondeo Super Tourer) – points to how evenly matched the current field is.
The weekend’s round has also been boosted by the entries of local drivers Bruce Miles (BMW 320i Super Tourer), Murray Cleland (BMW 320i Super Tourer), and Austin McKinley (NZTC Holden Commodore V8), Aucklanders Graeme Cameron (ZakSpeed DTM-spec BMW E30 M30) and Nigel Arkell (1996 Honda Accord Super Tourer), Invercargill’s Tony Forde (Walkinshaw Holden Commodore rep), Dunedinites Allan Dippie (Group A BTCC Rover Vitesse) and Dennis Ham (NZTC Alfa Romeo 155), and Warren Dunn from Palmerston North (Group A BMW E30 M3).
Christchurch series regular Steven Kelly is also using the Skope Classic meeting to step up from his original series car, an NZTC-spec BMW 320i, to a pukka BMW 320i Super Tourer he acquired last year from Australia.
After the second round at the Skope Classic this weekend, the 2020 Archibald’s Historic Touring Car Series concludes at the George Begg Classic Speedfest at Invercargill’s Teretonga Park in a fortnight (the Feb 15-16 weekend).