Thumbs up for Hampton downs

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Report
Some 400 Formula 5000 competitors took part in the first races at New Zealand’s newest circuit, which has a flavour of Brands Hatch

The new FIA-spec Hampton Downs venue, situated midway between Auckland and Hamilton, left a great impression when the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing officially christened it on January 22-24. Some 400 competitors (107 overseas, 70 from Australia) and many great Kiwi racers of the past joined in celebrating Bruce McLaren.

This was the big public rollout for the 1.2-mile short circuit, and the positive reaction – even without pits yet – was exactly what project directors Tony Roberts and Chris Watson deserved. The next development phase will see it extended to 2.36 miles for internationals.

Any elevation change is a novelty across NZ’s circuits, but this is where Hampton Downs scores with competitors and spectators. All of the 10 fields, embracing cars of the 1930s to ground-effect single-seaters, found it challenging.

The first turn, a right over a blind brow, has a flavour of Brands Hatch’s Paddock Hill Bend; the infield excursion involves a devilish flick over an adverse camber crest, and the second hairpin falls tantalisingly through its apex. A deceptive final sweeper catapults cars back onto a steep climb to the start/finish plateau. Bizarre, then, that Roberts envisaged it running the other direction…

“Sixty-two seconds of magic,” reckoned Ken Smith (above), who dominated the F5000 feature class in the ex-Teddy Pilette/Alfredo Costanzo Lola T430, winning all four races despite the best efforts of 2007-08 Tasman Cup Revival champion Chris Hyde, current points leader Steve Ross in McRae GM1s and Briton Mark Dwyer (Lola T332C).

The story was the same a week later at Pukekohe, tired and provincial by comparison, although Roger Williams (Lola T332) moved strongly into contention, battling with Ross under Smith’s wing until the veteran pulled imperiously away to complete another perfect score.

Richard Dodkins exercised all 750ft lb of torque in his 8.8-litre March 707/717 to win the Can-Am races at Hampton Downs – where the Elfin-Repco 360 of Murray Sinclair and Tim Rush’s McRae GM9 (below left) caught the eye. Frank Bradley drove the March at Pukekohe, where McLaren fans whooped as Kiwi Roger Wills (M1B) pipped him in the wet.

The quickest FPacific Swift-Toyota DB4 (above), with Andrew Higgins up, got close to top F5000 times at Hampton Downs in the Super Historics class, but in a damp race of attrition at ‘Pu-ke’, Harry Hickling surprised even himself by bagging one win in the ex-Steve Millen Chevron B20.

Wills and Rod Jolley had fine tussles, scything their ex-McLaren F1 Coopers through hordes of specials, before the former damaged his at Pukekohe. Robin Longdon (Lola Mk5A) reigned in Formula Junior, despite John Chisholm (Gemini Mk3) and Hans-Jorgen Krag’s (Lola Mk3) efforts.

In the Pre-1991 Formula Ford ranks the older chassis – including NZ-built Beggs and Cheetahs – held their own at both venues. Excitement surrounded the ’60s saloon stampedes, from which good wins were scored by Robbie Francevic in the recreation of his 7-litre Ford ‘Custaxie’ (below right) and Craig Stacey (AMC Javelin AMX).

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