Event of the month

There wasn’t an earthquake in New Zealand in February but it felt like it! Mark Holman reports

As far from Goodwood as you can get, the Southern Festival of Speed in New Zealand has four meetings on successive weekends in February.

The Skope Classic at Ruapuna near the ‘garden city’ of Christchurch attracted about 245 entries for a 36-race weekend.

Sadly, the expected UK-entered F5000s never arrived. A number of their drivers were loaned cars. Frank Lyons airfreighted his ex-Hunt McLaren M26, a superb partner for the locally owned ex-Hulme M23.

There were still over a dozen F5000s at Ruapuna, all but two of them NZ-owned. Can any country — let alone one with a population of just four million — regularly present such a grid?

The F5000s had three races. Simon Hadfield and Michael Schryver made good use of their borrowed Lolas. Michael set pole, but Simon won races one and three. A very cold Sunday morning presented a different challenge: while Hadfield powered into an early lead, his tyres suffered badly as the track dried. Lyons’s M26 was able to conserve its rubber and he took a popular 12sec victory.

Graham ‘Cassius’ McRae was a guest commentator, noting that he started building his own McRae cars because he was unable to get a McLaren M19 in which to install a Chevrolet V8!

Hadfield rated Ruapuna as having more to it than first appears: “You have to take a deep breath to avoid overdriving.” Though the winning margins weren’t tight, there were good dices in the pack, which included three Beggs, a Talon, a March and a couple of Lola T142 s. Veteran NZ driver Ken Smith — who raced F5000s when they were current and is looking to get back into it — drove a Matich A50 but retired.

In the small capacity single-seaters, Nigel Huston of Lowestoft had shipped his Johnston FFord back to NZ and ran happily in midfield, delighted to be getting nine race starts for his £90 entry fee!

Other winners included Trevor Crowe’s V8-powered Skoda 120LS saloon, Steve Hildred’s ’69 Holden Monaro and Canada’s Jack Ondrack in his rapid TVR Tuscan V8, which ‘lives’ in NZ. The Flying Farewell was won by Roger Townshend, whose superb Capri RS2600 just held off Nick Thomas’s Porsche 911 RSR from Hong Kong.

Then it was on to the Levels circuit, at Timaru, with a smaller field. Hadfield was the big winner, but there were only three other 5-litre cars there and the two McLarens. The final F5000 round at Teretonga (near Invercargill, home of Bert Munro, of The World’s Fastest Indian fame) saw the local owners back in their cars. Ian Clements took three of the four races in his Lola T332, with Stan Redmond winning the other in the McRae. Noel Atley’s smart Begg 018 had two podium positions and fastest F5000 lap. Sadly, Murray Sinclair’s Lola was out after a crash in qualifying. The most successful of the international entries was Jack Ondrack, whose TVR won three of the four races for its class.

The Southern Festival of Speed ended after we went to press on the streets of Dunedin, ‘the Edinburgh of the South’. Quite a bit of the original 1950s circuit is still used — David Piper raced his Lotus 16 there in 1960. But an engine capacity limit keeps the big V8 single-seaters and saloons away.