New Zealand was one of the first countries outside the United States to embrace the Formula 5000 motor racing class. So it is entirely appropriate that at the second annual Taupo Historic Grand Prix meeting this weekend, drivers contesting the third round of the SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series will be the first in the world to actively mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic stock-block V8 single-seater category.
“It’s certainly well-timed,’ says NZ F5000 Association spokesman Glenn Richards. “Our colleagues in the States have big plans to mark the anniversary later in the year but right now most of their tracks are covered in snow. So we get the jump on them by a month or two at least!”
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was the first sanctioning body to embrace the mix of F1-size and style chassis and production-based 5-litre V8 engines which was key to the appeal of the new category (known as Formula A or Formula 5000) And New Zealand was one of the first countries outside the United States to run a race for the cars.
That race, won by American Ron Grable driving a Spectre HR1, was at Mount Maunganui's Bay Park circuit on December 28 1968. Its success prompted the Motorsport Association of New Zealand to adopt Formula 5000 as the country's national formula in 1969.
That group and Australia's Confederation of Australian MotorSport (CAMS) then adopted the category for the annual Tasman Series championship in 1970 and in its heyday - between 1970 and 1977 - Formula 5000 was the premier national single-seater class in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as one of the main domestic single-seater categories in the UK.
More recently the New Zealand Formula 5000 Association spearheaded what is now a truly global move to locate, restore and re-commission cars built for the various category series around the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Though the majority were built in Great Britain and sold to the United States, over 30 are now owned and regularly raced by category enthusiasts in New Zealand. And of that number at least 18 are expected on the grid at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park this weekend.
Amongst that group is 75-year-old ‘super-veteran’ Ken Smith (Lola T332) from Auckland, a four-time SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series champion, as well as defending series champ Brett Willis (Lola T330) from Rotorua, and fellow former title holder Andrew Higgins, this season behind the wheel of the Stu Lush-owned Lola T332.
Leading the 2017/18 series points standings heading into this weekend’s meeting, however, is young Christchurch ace Michael Collins who has enjoyed a dream category debut in Queenstown car owner Alistair Hey’s ex Evan Noyes’ McRae GM1.
Former kart and South Island Formula Ford champion Collins, 21, qualified and finished second at the first round of this season’s series at Pukekohe in November and claimed his first category win at the second round at Manfeild a week later.
He heads into the third round this weekend with 216 points, 48 more than defending champ Willis who is second and former champ and round two winner Andrew Higgins who is third, just three points further back.
Joining Smith, Willis, Higgins and Collins on the grid at Taupo this weekend are series regulars Glenn Richards (Lola T400), David Banks (Lola T332), Grant Martin (Talon MR1A), Shayne Windelburn (Lola T400) and father and son Peter (McRae GM1) and Aaron (Talon MR1A) Burson, from Auckland, Russell Greer (Lola T332) from Blenheim, David Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) from Christchurch, Tony Roberts (McLaren M10A) from Napier, Tim Rush (McLaren M22) from Feilding, and Karl Zohs (Chevron B32) from Rotorua
The first ‘high-summer’ round of the annual trans-Tasman series also sees the return from Stansted in Great Britain of Greg Thornton, with two cars at his disposal, the ex Peter Gethin Chevron B32 and a later model Ford 3.4 litre V6-engined March 75A.
Set to make their debut in the SAS Autoparts MSC series this weekend, meanwhile, are Mike Cresswell from Tauranga and Tony Galbraith from Te Kauwhata.
Cresswell, a long-time classic car fan who has raced in the Historic Formula Ford class, has bought the ex John Gunn March 73A-1 most recently raced here by Clark Proctor. Former Speedway and more recently Central Muscle Cars class competitor Galbraith has bought the 2006/07 F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series-winning Lola T332 originally run here by Ian Clements then more recently by Napier driver Sefton Gibb.
This weekend’s round at Taupo marks the beginning of a busy month for those involved in the SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series, with further meetings at Hampton Downs next weekend and at the annual Skope Classic meeting in Christchurch the weekend after.
Joining the class on the schedule at Taupo this weekend are Formula Junior single-seaters, Historic Touring Cars, Historic Muscle Cars and Historic Saloon Cars. There will also be races for contemporary motorcycles and sidecars.
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.
You can follow the 2017/18 series on Facebook at F5000 New Zealand or on the NZ F5000 Association's website www.F5000.co.nz