Marcus Pye's diary

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MAWP looks forward to seeing a BRM race again in Monaco while eagerly awaiting a trip to New Zealand for F5000 fun

Stockbridge: Nobody loves an underdog like the British do, and by the end of the Sixties BRM, the 1962 World Championship team, was very much in that league. The boys from Bourne, who built not only their Formula One cars but also engines and transmissions, were struggling prior to designer Tony Southgate’s arrival.

Cosmetics firm Yardley threw it a lifeline for the ’70 season though and, as green gave way to an unfamiliar white colour scheme at the Race of Champions, BRNI’s new P153 looked the part. With Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver up, it was a player too — when the engines were fresh.

The V12 engines varied greatly, developing between 420 and 440bhp when new, but rather less when parts were made to go round again — not a philosophy countenanced by Cosworth for its DFVs. Rodriguez’s Belgian GP victory at Spa ended a four-year drought for the marque.

Seven P153s were built and chassis number 03— run for wealthy Canadian George Eaton as a third-string in ’70 — is to race again next season, for the first time since Helmut Marko scored its best GP finish: eighth at Monaco in ’72.

Acquired from team boss Louis Stanley by its ’71 driver Howden Ganley, it was sold by the Kiwi to Hampshire-based Willans Harness boss John Ferming in a shabby state, with a water-damaged monocoque. And more horrors awaited, for the ‘rebuilt’ engine and ‘box internals were scrap. Three years on, the detailed end product is likely better than new.

When John and Mike Littlewood get it on track, the primal scream of that V12 engine, rebuilt by J&F in Henley (which also did Fenning’s Ferrari flat-12s), will be a treat for all race fans. And, I hope, well worth the wait at Monaco’s GP Historique.

New Zealand: The final five years of the Tasman Cup competition were the brashest of all, run for thuggish Formula 5000 cars. In the right hands the best of them were as quick, if not perhaps quite as wieldy, as contemporary F1 machinery in the mid-70s Cosworth ‘kit car’ era. But the sharp bark of a 302 cu in Chevy V8 with a flat-plane crank made fans’ hair stand on end like no other.

I hero-worshipped the drivers who tamed those monsters, mostly from afar. Australians Warwick Brown, Frank Gardner (whom I’d seen race the works Lola T300 at Brands in ’71) and Kevin Bartlett, and Kiwis Graham McRae, Graeme Lawrence and Kenny Smith were gods. Their exploits, as retold every week in Autosport, brightened up my schoolboy winters.

Thirty years on, British-based historic racers have the opportunity to relive some of those glory days in New Zealand. I can barely believe that this month I will be among seven UK competitors joining the biggest gathering of F5000s seen there since the category’s heyday. As many as 30 cars may run at Pukekohe, close to Auckland, on January 27-29. The circus will then decamp to Christchurch on the South Island, where Ruapuna, over the road from the fearsomely fast but defunct Wigram airfield circuit, hosts the opening leg of the Southern Festival of Speed series.

The seed for the trip was sown by New Zealand F5000 Association members who made such an impression at Brands Hatch and Silverstone last summer. Their assistance, and that of Irishman Frank Lyons, who has taken his cars down under before, in coordinating a subsidised transport package has made the dream a reality for those of us with ‘mere mortal’ depths of pocket.

Careful logistics are the key to moving the kit half way round the world. Simon Hadfield’s crew corralled the Chevron B37, Trojan T101 and Lola T330 — which Simon, Michael Schryver and I will race — with Frank and Judy Lyons’s Lola T332 and Eagle FA74, James Denty’s Lotus 70 and Peter Dunn’s March 73A back in November.

Once loaded into containers, they left Felixstowe docks bound for Auckland, thus will have been on the high seas for a month by the time you read this. Road transport has been sorted out by our very generous hosts, so hopefully we will be reunited with the cars at Pukekohe. And then — my 2006 MSA licence, new freshly painted helmet and Air New Zealand permitting — the fun will begin…

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