The Master Mechanic,
“‘Chris was also a steadfast friend of Manfeild — he loved the track and never failed to champion its qualities, often on our behalf.
“‘We were deeply honoured when Tish and the children agreed to our request to rename the circuit in his memory. It was especially right [that] the circuit he loved so much should also honour his memory during the period of NZGP tenure,’ Mrs Keane said.
“The renaming proposal has been months in the making, and had progressed with wholehearted support from Manfeild Park Trust and supporters, including trust settlor the Manawatu Car Club, which had sought Mr Amon’s advice when it built Manfeild in the 1970s. The one sadness was that circumstance precluded Mr Amon being told what was in the wind.
“‘Ironically, we had held off talking to Chris because he was so famously a modest man [that] we knew we’d have to mount an especially persuasive argument to win his acceptance. Tragically, he was lost to us just before this was to happen. We determined to proceed so long as we had the support of the Amon family, and were delighted when Tish instantly gave her blessing.
“‘We are also thrilled that two of their children, James and Georgie, have joined our working group for the February celebration, and that the family is here today to celebrate that we are now and forever Manfeild: Circuit Chris Amon.’
“Mrs Keane and Mr Smith enforce the renaming is motivated wholly by desire to honour an emotional connection with a man ‘who meant so much to us all. The Manfeild perspective is simple: Chris was a man of special character. We will miss him tremendously. We intend to never forget him.’
“Today’s naming ceremony was also attended by representatives
The press release from Manfeild concluded:
“Also in attendance were Bruce Wilson and his son, Rolf, who have just published a book about Bruce Wilson’s time as a mechanic for Chris Amon during the early racing years, including the period when they ran the Maserati 250F that is now held by the Southward [Car] Museum.”
It had been a big week for Bruce, given that the previous Saturday, the book, about his life — that is so interwoven into that of Amon’s — was launched at the Rush Collection in Feilding. The book, written by well-known Hawerabased historian Gordon Campbell, will be reviewed in a future issue; it is great that
the contribution of another spanner man has been recorded. The Master Mechanic will be available in bookshops but can also be purchased by visiting themastermechanic.co.nz.
On subject of Kiwi mechanics, in recent years, we’ve had Max Rutherford’s book about his time in Europe during the 1960s, and I can think of a number of other Kiwi mechanics who also have great stories to tell. I understand that at the Legends of Speed event in Auckland on November 25, at no point in the evening was any mention made of the massive international reputation that Kiwi mechanics and engineers have had for over 60 years. I hope I heard that wrong, because the legacy is extraordinary.
Since 2011, the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs has alternated between honouring a driver and a marque. The 2017 honouree is the one and only Kenneth James Smith, who is now closing in on his 60th consecutive year of holding a racing licence. The 2017 festival will be the first not orchestrated by Jim Barclay and will, for the first time, be a one-weekend affair, from January 20 to 22. The diminutive 75-year-old will inevitably be one of the leading lights in the ground-shaking Formula 5000s (F5000s) — the (mostly) V8-powered single-seaters in which Kenny was unbeatable at Hampton Downs at the 2016 festival, and again at Mike Pero Motorsport Park a fortnight later.
It is wonderful that Kenny’s extraordinary life and career will be honoured, and, as I mentioned a few months ago, a book on the wee bloke with the giant love of the sport has been produced. It is fair to say that, initially, Kenny wasn’t quite convinced about this book malarkey, but after a couple of solid
sessions of teasing stories out of him, the floodgates opened. On at least three occasions, my mobile phone would ring, revealing the caller to be the subject of the book — each time, the call would come a day or two after we’d spent part of a weekend taking notes, and each time the call would go along these lines: ‘Michael, I know you’ll be busy but is there any chance we could meet sometime today — I’ve thought of something else …’ On each occasion, the answer to my question ‘Where are you right now?’ would be ‘Right outside your office.’
So, he went from feeling slightly reluctant to being quite enthusiastic, and more than once I have heard from one of his faithful helpers of many decades — and over half a century in the case of Barry Miller — that Kenny keeps coming up with new stories. Having needed a gentle nudge by Jim Barclay to act as a catalyst for this book, Kenny is already telling me that we need to start planning the next one about the second phase of his career. Next year, he’s planning to race at the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique in May, but he keeps mentioning that each of his three NZGP wins was 14 years apart — and 2018 will be 14 years since win number three! Amazingly, as I’ve been tapping out these words, he’s phoned to tell me that he’s going testing in a couple of days — “I think my Lola is about as quick as any of them, but Michael Lyons is coming out again and he’s always quick — so I’ve got to be on top of my game …”
For the record, Lyons will turn 26 between the festival and the big event at Taupo at the end of January, which will feature F5000s up against the dozen or so visiting 1970s Formula 1 (F1) cars with the ear-splitting high-revving 3.0-litre engines. It would be a reasonable bet to put now that Lyons and Smith will share the front row of a grid at some point — with a mere 60 years, near as dammit, separating them. As I said — extraordinary — no doubt there will be a film one day.
Father and son world champions
Had there been a world championship in the 1920s, there is little doubt that Antonio Ascari would have taken the title for Alfa Romeo, in which case, his son, Alberto, world champion in 1952 and ’53, would have been the first ‘son of’ to be crowned. Damon Hill was 1996’s world champion and so became the first — and, until 2016, the only — ‘son of a champion’ to also take the title — his dad, Graham, of course, being world champion in 1962 and ’68, and the only champion to also win the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Forty years ago this month, Keke Rosberg arrived in New Zealand
virtually unknown on the world stage, but, by the end of January 1977, he’d sewn up the inaugural Formula Pacific championship here, and we all expected he’d walk straight into F1 on the strength of it. He didn’t, so he returned here in January 1978 and did it all again. Some rides in F1 backmarkers followed, but, despite a fantastic win in a non-championship race run in monsoon conditions, the big boys of F1 still ignored him. At the end of 1981, Alan Jones abruptly retired, and Williams needed a driver for its topline car — by the end of 1982 (to be fair, with a touch of luck), Rosberg was world champion.
His son, Nico, had looked likely from time to time, but it wasn’t until he figured out how to win that he then kept doing it. Before wrapping up the 2016 world championship in the final race at the end of November, he had surpassed Stirling Moss as the winningest non champion. Now that accolade is back with Sir Stirling, as it should be, and as Nico Rosberg basks in the glory of a well-deserved championship, most F1 fans are hoping that the new rules for 2017 provide a great deal more variety in terms of cars capable of regularly winning — starting with Mclaren, Williams, and Ferrari would be good …
I was intrigued to learn that the former Ferrari and Mclaren driver Gerhard Berger had negotiated Rosberg’s contract with Mercedes. The savvy Rosberg no doubt figured that, if you’re bargaining with a couple of hard-nosed Austrians in the form of Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff, the best guy to have on your side is a hard-nosed Austrian — cue Berger. His fame extends to Lone Star on Riccarton Road, where I spotted the ‘star burger’ while perusing the menu in the company of legendary Christchurch historic racing personality Peter, aka ‘Baldric’, Grant.
I can recall it so vividly — a newspaper article showing proper Grand Prix cars being unloaded off a ship at Auckland wharf. When my mother alerted me to it, even at eight, I sensed there must have been a reason for this being brought to my attention — surely this would be because I would be attending my firstever Grand Prix. A day or two later, I was aboard a red VW as we crawled in queues from Manurewa to Pukekohe — it was January 7, 1967. Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, and Jackie Stewart headed the bill, but Denny Hulme, who would end that year as world champion, was a non-starter. The top locals included Jimmy Palmer, Roly Levis, Graeme Lawrence, and Ken Smith — and, half a century from me attending my first Grand Prix, the latter is still racing … at the front. Someone really ought to write a book about him …
Next month, 50 years and one month on, I’ll be at Manfeild: Circuit Chris Amon, to be honest, without quite the same sense of anticipation as I had in 1967, but I still can’t stay away — or praise Toyota New Zealand enough, because without it, I have to wonder if we’d have been able to retain the Grand Prix title: only Macau and New Zealand are permitted to use ‘Grand Prix’ outside of F1.