THE LOCA L MOTOR - R ACING C A L ENDA R I S G ENE R A L LY PACK E D FUL L O F E V ENT S AT THI S T I ME O F THE Y E A R , E S P E C I A L LY FOR M I CHA E L , WHO C ATCHE S U P W I T H A COUP L E O F MOTOR - R AC I NG L EGE NDS
The New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs celebrating Kenny Smith, in late January, was run on the International circuit, and, for most competitors, it was a first. By all accounts, the track is certainly challenging — and was not helped by the schizophrenic weather, especially on the Sunday, when those of us in the commentary box couldn’t believe our screens when hail stones fell at a section of the extended track. Kenny was racing three cars over the weekend — his Formula 5000 Lola, the Swift DB-4 Atlantic car that he regularly uses in Formula Libre racing, and a Formula Ford borrowed off Phil Foulkes.
He did OK — he won all three 5000 races, won all four Formula Libres, and three of the four Formula Ford races, so 10 wins from 11 starts and a second — and one of the wins came after he started from pit lane. That might be possible in some categories, but is unheard of in the hurly-burly wheel-to-wheel racing in Formula Ford. But racing was only part of Kenny’s duties over the weekend — there were cars to demonstrate during lunchtime parades, book signings, and the Saturday-night dinner in his honour. Three of his Australian buddies from the good old days made the trip — Kevin Bartlett, Warwick Brown, and Bruce Allison — and all spoke with warmth and humour about the incomparable Kenny. Towards the end of the evening, the MC got two of Ken’s oldest friends up on the stage — both are guys that Kenny says he could race with wheel to wheel without ever wondering if there would be any ‘funny business’: Graeme Lawrence and David Oxton.
Graeme wrote the foreword in the Kenny book, in which he describes their relationship as being more like that of brothers. Both he and David added further hilarity, combined with thoughtful reflection on just how much Kenny has continued to improve as a driver at a time when many people his age are weighing up which retirement village to move into. Tony Quinn also spoke on the
night, and suggested that Kenny should be employed by the New Zealand Government to go around rest homes and show people what they could be doing at 75. It’s a superb idea …
Near the end of the evening, Warwick Mortimer sidled up to me and said, “In your book, there is a section about cars Kenny would have loved to have raced — the first one is a Can-am Mclaren, and I wonder if he’d like to drive mine tomorrow.” I pointed out to Warwick that Kenny was standing close by and suggested he ask him, but he said, “I’d like you to.” So, that was the easiest question of the night: “Kenny, would you like to drive Mort’s Mclaren tomorrow in the lunchtime display?”
Though the car did not quite fit him properly, Kenny loved the experience — despite a few specks of rain near the end. So, how was it out there? “I tell you, they’re men’s cars. A 5000 is a man’s car, but these even more so. It took a while to get used to all that bodywork around me, but I just loved it. It got a bit slippery near the end, and there was no point being a hero — fantastic, makes you think how it would have been back in the day, with two dozen of those things racing.”
The Taupo event the weekend after the festival was billed as a Formula 5000 versus Formula 1 showdown, with half a dozen Ford Cosworth Dfv–powered Grand Prix (GP) cars on hand. Michael Lyons found his ex–rupert Keegan Hesketh 308E not cooperating, so borrowed his dad Frank’s ex–james Hunt Mclaren M26 to go headto-head with Kenny. They were each the class of their respective groups — Michael, tall and boyish, just turned 26, and Kenny — tougher than diesel. Just as he’d been at Hampton Downs, where he set a new lap record for the long track. Michael’s lighter and more nimble Formula 1 (F1) car just had the legs on the best of the 5000s. Next year, Frank Lyons expects more F1 cars to make the trip, and one hopes that that will attract more spectators to see, and hear, these wonderful machines in action.
Warwick Mortimer was also at Taupo with his Can-am Mclaren. On Saturday, he put Bruce Mclaren’s daughter Amanda into the cockpit, and, despite never having driven anything remotely similar before, she loved the experience. On Sunday, the car was handed over to Cary Taylor — it was a lovely gesture by Mort, because Cary had been Denny’s mechanic, not only on his world championship–winning Brabham, but also on his Can-am Mclarens from 1968 to 1970. Cary had raced a Brabham twin-cam in the early ’70s, and showed enough to indicate he might be just as talented with a steering wheel as he was with a spanner. He described it as “… an awesome experience, and brought back many memories of my time as chief mechanic on Denny’s cars …”
Cary and I will work on a special feature for the October issue to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his and Denny’s fantastic achievement.
I can’t recall when I last missed the wonderful Skope Classic at Ruapuna — it is one of the most enjoyable meetings of the year, and this year saw over 300 entries headed by Formula 1, F5000 and Juniors, but with the very special focus on Historic Touring Cars. The organizers, who seem to think of everything, invited over some celebrities from Australia in the form of Christine and Fred Gibson, Allan Moffat and Jim Richards, and from much further afield, Gianfranco Brancatelli and Ulf Granberg. The races featured ‘Branca’ — complete with the Amon-styled crash helmet that he has worn since the ’70s in honour of his boyhood hero — in a Sierra Cosworth RS500 up against Michael Lyons — the boy can drive anything — in an ex– British Touring Car Championship Nissan Primera. Although giving away a lot of power, the Nissan is newer, and from an era described as “the Formula 1 of touring cars”.
Having agreed to interview some of the touring-car drivers at the Saturday-night dinner, I was then told the Canadian-bornbut-melbourne-domiciled Allan Moffat was also on the list. I recalled an intense and extremely unfriendly bespectacled Moffat as the driver of the famous Coca-cola Mustang when he first visited these shores in the early ’70s. His reputation back then preceded him to the extent that even many dyed-in-the-wool Ford fans found him difficult. He was easy to admire on the track but hard to like off it.
I am, however, delighted to report that he was utterly charming, warm and full of anecdotes. He’s now 77 and told me that his story is nearing completion and should be in bookshops later this year. Even Holden hardliners could not deny his place in Australian motor-racing folklore, just as Ford fans must recognize the contribution of Peter Brock. Between the two of them, they set a platform for virtually everything that has followed — they both brought a new level of professionalism to the sport in Australasia, and the success of Bathurst is
Feilding is one of the nicest little towns in Manawatu and is just a stone’s-throw away from the city of Palmerston North. It also features the nearest race track to the nation’s capital, which is a two-hour drive away. On the bright side, the Manfeild race track is only a 10-minute drive for local resident Stephen Picking, who is the subject of this story.
In 2006, Stephen saw a group of Fraser 7s having a lot of fun at Manfeild, and was intrigued when he learned that most of the drivers had actually built their cars in their garages. Once the event was over, Stephen decided to investigate. Using the internet, he discovered the existence of two companies in New Zealand that manufacture a 7-type car as a kitset — Almac Cars in Upper Hutt and Fraser Cars in Auckland. The cars they manufacture may resemble the Lotus 7 built during the ’60s, but that is where any similarity ends. Many years of development and advances in technology have occurred since then. Builders of either of these cars will generally order a chassis, then dial up the performance depending on what mechanical bits and pieces they purchase to get it mobile.
Fly in the ointment
Buying a kit was tempting for a brief moment, but, being a fitter/welder by trade, Stephen believed that he could save several thousand dollars if he built the chassis himself. The only fly in this ointment was that Stephen had no experience of being a chassis designer, and his car-mechanic skills were pretty limited, too. At this point, the project could have stalled, as the more Stephen learned about chassis design, torsional twisting, and triangulation etc., the more mind-numbing it all became — until, that is, he happened to read a 2007 edition of New Zealand Classic Car, which solved this dilemma. Inside its glossy pages was an ad for a book published by Haynes called Build Your Own Sports Car — On a Budget, by Chris Gibbs. Chris had built his own car — a Locost — using a similar book by Ron Champion. The problem was that Ron’s car was based on the MKI and II Ford Escort, and these, by the turn of the millennium, were quite rare cars. So Chris saw a gap that needed to be filled, and decided to write an updated version. Haynes is a publishing company that has assisted backyard mechanics by producing car manuals since the
Keyword — ‘budget’
For Stephen the keyword was indeed ‘budget’, and he immediately knew he would need to purchase a copy of Chris’ book. An order was placed at his local book store. When the book arrived, Stephen was impressed with its quality and the way that it broke the project down into doable chunks. The Haynes Roadster used mainly Ford Sierra parts, which were still in plentiful supply in New Zealand in the mid 2000s. The chassis plans were very detailed, with a full explanation of how to cut and lay it out before welding. So 2mm thick 25mm RHS box-section steel was ordered at the start of 2008, and the chassis was completed a mere two months later. During the construction,