SMITH PONDERS LADY WIGRAM TITLE NUMBER FIVE
As he heads into his 54th consecutive season racing at a national level at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools Raceway this weekend, evergreen New Zealand motor racing great Ken Smith is playing down the possibility of winning the Lady Wigram Trophy for a record-breaking fifth time. At the moment Smith, who turned 70 earlier in the year, shares the record for the greatest number of trophy wins - four - with fellow category legend Graham McRae. But the weight of that achievement - and prospect of bettering it this weekend - sits lightly on Smith's shoulders.
"It'd be nice, of course, to be ahead of everyone else," he said as he prepared to head south from his home high on the Bombay Hills for this weekend's race meeting, "but that's not why I do what I do. I do it because I enjoy the racing. If I win, great, but if I don't I won't lose any sleep over it." What Smith can't deny, of course, is his favourite status, his clean sweep of qualifying and all three MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series races (which included setting a new category lap record) at the Lady Wigram meeting last year earning him the historic Trophy - first won by local man Morrie Proctor in 1949 - for the fourth time.
Before that Smith was one of four drivers - Peter Whitehead, Jim Clark and Craig Baird are the others - to have won the Trophy three times - in his case across three different decades, first in 1976 (in a Lola T332 F5000 car) then again in 1990 (in a Swift Toyota Formula Pacific car) and (back in a Formula 5000) in 2009 and, when the meeting was moved from its January date to October, 2010.
This weekend Smith will be one of 18 members of New Zealand's Formula 5000 Association contesting the opening round of the 2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at the Wigram Revival meeting at Powerbuilt Tools Raceway.
The big difference this year is that, for the first time since he returned to the re-born F5000 category, Smith will be behind the wheel of his own car, having bought and had rebuilt over the past 18 months an ex Danny Ongais Lola T332.
The T332 is the car Smith earned his first Lady Wigram Trophy in and since his interest in the category was rekindled he has been trying to buy his original car back from Australian driver Andrew Robson.
Robson, however, has been equally determined to keep the car, prompting Smith to eventually look elsewhere for another.
That car was found in a museum in Los Angeles and has since been subjected to a nut-and-bolt restoration and respray by long time Smith team crew chief Barry Miller in the same La Valise livery Smith's original one wore when it was new.
And though he has yet to properly test the car Smith says he expects it to be competitive straight out of the box.
"Barry's done the whole thing and it's absolutely beautiful. And the exciting thing about this car compared with the T430 I have been driving," says Smith, "is the weight. I've been giving away up to 130kgs to the McRaes in the T430 and I've still been competitive with them. Now we'll be on an equal footing we'll be able to see how good they really are."
Speaking of the McRae GM1s which - with Lola's ubiquitous T332 - are the most popular choice with drivers contesting the MSC series, Smith believes his competition this season will again come from McRae GM1s of Dunedin man Steve Ross and Canadian visitor Jay Esterer.
Another McRae GM1 driver, Christchurch-born expat Chris Lambden, is also expected to feature. Before he set up successful Australian motorsport magazine MotorSport News (which he sold three years ago) Lambden raced karts here and in the UK and Group A Touring Cars across the Tasman.
Like many MSC series regulars he watched in awe as drivers like Ken Smith and Graham McRae raced Formula 5000 single-seaters first time round and resolved to buy a car (built and maintained by Christchurch's Motorsport Solutions) and join the local series after again falling under their spell at an MSC series round at the Australian Grand Prix meeting in Melbourne two years ago.
Traditionally the MSC series entry has been supplemented by visiting drivers from Australia, the UK and the US in January and February but this season Jay Esterer, Chris Lambden and British driver Greg Thornton (Chevron B24) have committed to all six rounds, including the season finale at Phillip Island in Australia in early March.
Lining up against Smith, Ross, Esterer, Lambden and Thornton this weekend is a mix of series regulars and newcomers split fairly evenly between the North and South Islands.
From the North come Aucklanders Andrew Higgins (Lola T400), Roger Williams (Lola T332), father and son Peter and Aaron Burson (both McRae GM1), John Mackinlay (March 73A/2) and Kerry McIntosh (Begg FM2), from Napier comes Sefton Gibbs (Lola T332) and from Rotorua Brett Willis (Lola T330).
Holding up local honour, meanwhile, are Christchurch-based series regulars Tony Richards, Stan Redmond and Ian Clements and Blenhein man Russell Greer (all Lola T332).
The round will also see the series debut of well-known local historic category racer Dave Arrowsmith behind the wheel of a rare Ford-powered Lotus 78, and Aucklander David Banks in a Talon MR1/A.
This weekend's Wigram Revival meeting is headlined by the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series and supported by Historic Touring Cars, Classic Saloons, OSCA (Open Saloon Car Association) and Historic OSCA, Mini 7s, Pre 65s and motorcycles.
To promote the meeting the Canterbury Car Club has organised a 'Cavalcade of Cars' which leaves the circuit gates at 2.30pm on Thursday November 03 and under Police escort travels to and from nearby Templeton. Included in the cavalcade will be several Formula 5000 single-seaters.
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, Smith & Davies, Avon Tyres and Exide.
CalendarRnd 1: Nov 05/06 2011 Wigram Revival meeting, Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 2: Nov 12-13 2011 MG Classic Manfeild Feilding
Rnd 3: Jan 21-22 2012 NZ Festival of Motor Racing - BMW meeting x 1 Hampton Downs Auckland
Rnd 4: Jan 28-29 2012 NZ Festival of Motor Racing - BMW meeting x 2 Hampton Downs Auckland
Rnd 5: Feb 04/05 2012 Skope Classic meeting Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 6: March 09-11 2012 Phillip Island Classic meeting Phillip Island Victoria Australia
Pictures courtesy of Fast Company/Alex Mitchell.
Evergreen New Zealand racing great Ken Smith is in line to win a record fifth Lady Wigram Trophy at the Canterbury Car Club's season-opening Wigram Revival meeting at Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park this weekend.
Napier's Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) will also be one of the drivers to watch.