Steve Ross (McRae GM1) has taken on the mantle of man-to-beat in this season's MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series after dominating qualifying and winning the first race at the fifth round at the Skope Classic motor racing meeting in Christchurch today.
At the first two rounds of the 2014/15 series in Australia late last year it was Sydney Chevron B24 driver Tom Tweedie who set the pace and won the majority of the races.
At the two Gulf Oil Howden Ganley F5000 Festival meetings back home last month, meanwhile, it was series' super-vet Ken Smith (Lola T332) who qualified quickest and claimed a clean-sweep of all the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series races.
With Tweedie only contested the MSC races in his home country, and Smith choosing not to come south this year, it was two-time former series winner Ross whose time had come today.
The Dunedin man was by far the quickest MSC class runner on the track this morning, his 1.18.941 pole time almost one-and-a-half seconds faster than that of series' returnee Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) who set the second best time.
Then in the first 8-lap MSC series race of the weekend later in the day Ross eased away to win by a comfortable margin. Gibb, who has been a series regular in the past but is making his 2014/15 season debut this weekend, was the surprise package, edging out visiting British driver Greg Thornton (Surtees TS11) for the spot alongside Ross on the front row of the grid.
But Ross was never seriously threatened in the eight-lap race.
"I was able to get enough of a lead and then it was just a matter of bringing it home," he said.
Thornton tried his best to stay with Gibb, but was unable to find a way past and crossed the finish line in third place.
"At one stage I was all over him," the British driver said, "but come the straight he was too quick and I just had to say goodbye."
Neither Smith nor Hampton Downs' rival Clark Proctor (who suffered major gearbox issues in his March 73A/1 at the second Festival meeting) made it to Christchurch's Mike Pero Motorsport Park (nee Ruapuna) for the penultimate 2014/15 MSC series round this weekend.
But the field was still 12-strong thanks to the addition of Aucklander Alastair Russell (McRae GM1) and local man Dave Arrowsmith, the latter driving the second David Abbott-owned Lola T430.
There was close racing throughout the field as well, with the Lola T332s of Russell Greer, Paul Zazryn and Ian Clements engaged in a race-long tussle for fourth through eighth positions with the Talon MR1s of Auckland pair Aaron Burson and David Banks.
Rotorua driver Brett Willis also quickly worked his way up through the order after a broken fuel pump drive saw him miss qualifying and start the race from the back row of the grid.
For most of the race Greer led the battle-pack but on the sixth lap he and Zazryn clashed then tangled on the run to the first infield right-hander from the hairpin.Contact saw both cars spin but both were able to get going again, albeit only after Ian Clements, Aaron Burson, David Banks and Brett Willis had got through.
McRae GM1 driver Steve Ross was one of two MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series winners on the second day of competition at the fifth round at the annual Skope Classic historic motor racing meeting in Christchurch over the weekend.
Ross qualified quickest and won all three Mobil1-backed MSC category races. But after the 12-lap feature final on Sunday afternoon race runner-up Brett Willis (Lola T330) was named the winner of the Stan Redmond Memorial Trophy.
Redmond was a leading light in the MSC series from its inception and the Trophy was minted after his tragic death behind the wheel two years ago.
The trophy is awarded to the MSC series driver who puts in the most spirited performance at the Skope Classic meeting (held at Redmond's home circuit, Mike Pero Motorsport Park nee Ruapuna) and this year Willis, who worked his way from seventh spot on the grid to second at the flag, was a popular choice.
"It was certainly a great way to finish the weekend, and great for the team," he said.
After winning the first MSC series race of the weekend on Saturday from Napier driver Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) and British-based series regular Greg Thornton (Surtees TS11), runaway series points leader Steve Ross looked set to romp home to two more wins on Sunday.
He did too, but not until he learned the hard way just how close the likes of Gibb and Thornton are now to his pace.
After grabbing an early lead in the morning's 8-lapper Ross eased back, and paid the price, running off the track and being quickly bumped back to second by a grateful Gibb then third by Thornton.
"It was a lack of concentration, then I tried to push it a bit too hard," the two-time series champ admitted afterwards.
Gibb led the race for four laps in all, with Ross getting back past Thornton for one lap, then losing the place and having to do it all again the next.
In the end he did get back into the lead, with Gibb second, Thornton third, Aussie Paul Zazryn (Lola T332) fourth and Russell Greer (Lola T332) and Brett Willis fifth and sixth respectively.
Ross made sure he didn’t make the same mistake in the 12-lap feature race in the afternoon, accelerating away to an early lead off the rolling start from Gibb, Zazryn, Thornton, Greer, Ian Clements (Lola T332) and Willis.
Paul Zazryn then made a successful pass on Sefton Gibb for second into Turn 1 before setting off after Ross. At this stage Ross had an almost four second buffer but Zazryn pushed on ahead of Gibb, Thornton and Aaron Burson (Talon MR1A) with Brett Willis tucked in behind.
Gibb appeared to slow on the sixth lap, allowing Thornton to catch him then Gibb's race came to an end two laps later when an input shaft broke.
By that time Willis had got past Burson and used the opportunity to take Thornton as well.
Zazryn remained in second place but was slowing as he started struggling for front turn-in grip, allowing Willis - on a real roll by this stage - to get closer and eventually pass for second place with one lap to go.
"The front tyres were going off after the halfway mark which was causing understeer. He (Willis) was quicker so it wasn't worth holding him back," explained Zazryn.
While the large crowd was focused on Willis and his climb through the field, Aaron Burson also managed to find a way past Greg Thornton, and David Arrowsmith pulled in with a broken muffler on his borrowed Lola T430.
The Mobil1 MSC F5000s joined the Harold Heasley Saloons, Stanton Brothers Sports and GTs, PKMC Muscle Cars, Pat Hoare Formula Libres and NZ Pre-65s on a packed programme at the Skope Classic meeting this year.The series now returns to the North Island where the final round will be held at the 2015 New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Manfeild next weekend.
1. Steve Ross (Dunedin/McRae GM1) 01:18.941
2. Sefton Gibb (Napier/Lola T332) 01:20.391
3. Greg Thornton (Sansted, UK/Surtees TS11) 01:20.765
4. Paul Zazryn (Melbourne, Aust/Lola T332) 01:21.290
5. Russell Greer (Blenheim/Lola T332) 01:21.905
6. Ian Clements (Christchurch/Lola T332) 01:22.081
7. Aaron Burson (Auckland/Talon MR1/A) 01:22.308
8. David Banks (Auckland/Talon MR1) 01:22.419
9. Alastair Russell (Auckland/McRae GM1) 01:23.102
10. David Abbott (Christchurch/Lola T430) 01:23.810
11. Dave Arrowsmith (Christchurch/Lola T430) 01:24.440
12. Peter Burson (Auckland/McRae GM1) 01:26.65813. Brett Willis (Rotorua/Lola T330) no time
Race 1 - 8 laps Sat
1. Steve Ross 10:57.188
2. Sefton Gibb +06.165
3. Greg Thornton +06.384
4. Ian Clements +15.702
5. Aaron Burson +17.864
6. David Banks +18.949
7. Brett Willis +30.989
8. Russell Greer +46.638
9. Paul Zazryn +56.351
10. David Arrowsmith +56.543
11. David Abbott +58.563
12. Peter Burson +58.671DNF: Alastair Russell
Race 2 - 8 laps Sun
1. Steve Ross 11:03.191
2. Sefton Gibb +03.549
3. Greg Thornton +04.164
4. Paul Zazryn +09.622
5. Russell Greer +09.954
6. Brett Willis +10.350
7. Ian Clements +10.715
8. Aaron Burson +12.447
9. David Abbott +29.129
10. David Arrowsmith +29.446
11. Peter Burson +42.884DNF: Alastair Russell, David Banks
Race 3 - 12 laps
1. Steve Ross 16:12.491
2. Brett Willis +17.219
3. Paul Zazryn +18.161
4. Aaron Burson +19.844
5. Gregory Thornton +21.418
6. Ian Clements +29.510
7. David Banks +32.083
8. Russell Greer +32.120
9. David Abbott +50.639
10. Peter Burson +1 lapDNF: Alastair Russell, Sefton Gibb, David Arrowsmith
The MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series is organised and run with the support of sponsors MSC, NZ Express Transport, Bonney's Specialized Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants, Pacifica, Avon Tyres, Webdesign and Exide.
Rnd 6: Feb 12-15 2015 The NZIGP/Manfeild Trust/MSNZ/TRS Manfeild, Feilding, New Zealand