Marcus Pye's Diary

Comparing sheep to F5000s in New Zealand, and taking a step back in amazement at the Stanton Special

Christchurch New Zealand’s sheep-to-human-beings ratio may rank second to the Falkland Islands, but it leads the world table of Formula 5000 horsepower per head of population. With around 20 cars spread among four million inhabitants that’s indisputable.

Given that the gruff 500bhp monsters were raced for a great deal longer in Australia — through to 1981 in fact — it seems bizarre that they enjoy a far greater following among the Kiwis, who abandoned F5000 in ’76 after seven years of Tasman Cup and Gold Star activity.

The greatest concentration of the cars is on the South Island, in the splendid city of Christchurch, where no fewer than 10 currently reside — four Lola T332s, all three T430s (one being rebuilt from Aussie Alan Hamilton’s wreck), a T142, a McRae GM1 and a Begg FM5.

That may be no coincidence given that the country’s leading historic racecar preparation shop, John Crawford’s Motorsport Solutions organisation, is based on the outskirts of the Ruapuna Park circuit.

It’s a one-stop shop, offering everything from chassis restoration to engine building. Upstairs sits the Canterbury Racing School, while its modern race team operates Formula Toyotas.

While I was there, Crawford’s crew worked all hours to finish Australian Aaron Lewis’s Matich A50 (having made a new monocoque since a big shunt at Teretonga in 2005) and its Holden-Repco engine — similar to that which powered Gerry Marshall’s Vauxhall Ventora and Firenza Super Saloons, featured elsewhere in this issue.

Crawford is no mean driver either. Having worked for Robert Synge’s Madgwick Motorsport team at Silverstone in 1984, he returned home with one of Adrian Reynard’s newfangled FF1600 chassis and swept the board en route to the national title.

Despite my planned F5000 racing going down the pan, after the boat carrying our cars only reached Western Australia at the time it was supposed to land its cargo in Auckland, all was not lost.

David Abbott’s selfless offer to share his ex-VDS Lola T430 in qualifying at Pukekohe broadened my class experience to eight cars, and I enjoyed chatting to past masters Graham McRae and Graeme Lawrence among a tremendous cross-section of F5000s in the pits.

While McRae built his most successful cars in England — three of the coke bottle-sided GM1s were in the North Island field — George Begg and Fred McLean were toiling away in the south making Begg F5000s.

Seven were made, and FM2 and FM5 models (each one of a pair) were raced in the Tasman Revival, together with the ultimate 018 design, which drew its styling cues from McLaren’s M23. The unique FM4, which locals hadn’t seen in ages, was also displayed at Pukekohe.

Initially raced by Jim Murdoch, the gorgeous 018 is now back near its birthplace, owned and raced by Invercargill engineer Noel Atley.

Special-building is a foundation stone of New Zealand motorsport, and at Ruapuna the British contingent gawped in amazement as the legendary Stanton Special thudded round the track with the intrepid Warner Mauger (say ‘major’) up.

Built in the early ’50s by brothers Maurice and Charles Stanton of Christchurch, it’s a hairy old monster. Formed from exhaust tubes, the rudimentary chassis is home to a supercharged 6.1-litre, four-cylinder de Havilland Gipsy Major aero engine from a Tiger Moth.

A starter in the inaugural New Zealand GP at Ardmore in ’54, it was also sand-raced and hillclimbed with distinction. Its major claim to fame, however, remains the NZ Land Speed Record. Dressed in an all-enveloping Microplas Mistral body (long discarded) with a distinctive dorsal fin, the narrow-tyred cropduster achieved a staggering 173.8mph on a narrow road in ’58.

Morrie Stanton’s mark stood until 1996, but the legend lives on. Of all the oddities I’ve seen on my travels, the Stanton Special is — along with the Lycoming Special which Bruce McLaren drove and is still raced with distinction by Ralph Smith — one which I feel needs to be shared with Goodwood Festival of Speed-goers.