NZ Festival of Motor Racing, celebrating Bruce McLaren
21-24 January 2010, Hampton Downs MotorSport Park
FORMULA 5000 ACTION – MSC Tasman Revival Series
I (Charles Rogers) had a close up experience with Formula 5000 racing at Hampton Downs being the pit crew for Bill Hemming (who also ran his Elfin Catalina FJ in the formula junior races) with the Elfin MR8-AC.
After checking the tyre pressures and polishing the car my job was mainly done as neither myself or Bill wished me to use the spanner! The most important job was to remove the portable battery before Bill heading out on to the track, & keeping it close in the case of a red flag.
At the beginning of the weekend Bill qualified on 22nd – out of 38, and the fastest of the three remaining Australians. The sister Elfin MR8 “Ansett Airlines” car of Ken James met an unfortunate demise two weeks earlier at the lead-up Christchurch meeting when the accelerator pedal stuck and caused the car and Ken into the nearby wall at a great speed (the tacho was stuck on 7,000rpm – you can imagine the speed he was travelling. Ken suffered a severely bruised ancle and neck, but was at Hampton Downs in good spirits advising the car will be re-built.
As happens in F5000 racing many cars suffer from accident or mechanical drama as the weekend progresses. As well as this the lap time got better for Bill as the weekend progressed. His qualifying lap was 1 minute, 13 seconds & he set an aim of achieving 1.10 – I advised that I would be happy with 1.07 – easy said when you’re not the one driving!, but at weekend’s end a fastest lap time by Bill of 1.08 was achieved while he was attacking the UK’s Marcus Pye (Lola T400 of Frank Lyons) in the 15-lap feature event.
Sunday for the F5000, however, was where all the action happened – for the crew too. The morning’s 8-lap rolling start race was red flagged (stopped) after 4 cars were involved in a collision at the hairpin. A great amount of confusion was had by both officials and competitors as the remaining cars stopped on the main straight. Crews then went out (including me) with their battery packs. Bill started the race on grid position 13. The officials ordered us to push the Elfin up the length of the straight (about 300 metres) to pole position? We (by this stage Jeff Brown had joined me to assist) were as bemused as the pit crews of the front running cars of Ken Smith and Mike Dwyer. My thought still remains that the officials had the wrong page in front of them!, but Bill appreciated his moment in the spotlight on pole. Shortly after things were sorted out when we were ordered to push the car (with the fit Bill still in it) back down the grid to 13th place. He finished the re-started race in the same position as he started.
The format for the races’ had Formula Junior first and the Formula 5000s fourth up.
The action continued in the afternoon. Neither Bill nor I realised that the Sunday afternoon race schedule would be re-arranged with the Formula 5000 feature race taking place straight after the FJ race. Our process to date had been to see Bill in from the FJ race then walk to the other end of the marquee to where the F5000 was to get the car ready (the two races between enabled enough time for this, and sufficient time for Bill to rejuvenate. We found this out as Bill was replenishing himself with a drink after the FJ race. By the time we made it down te marquee the remainder of the field were on their gridding up lap.
What fell into our hands was that this feature 15-lap event for the weekend was also going to include a pre-race ceremony to officially open the Hampton Downs circuit. We were literally running Bill’s car down pit lane as he was running alongside putting his HANS device and helmet on. Bill then got into the car when an official gave him the “it’s now or you miss out speech” and Bill subsequently screamed out of pit lane – still to complete his harness.
On arrival to the start grid I waved at him to arrive at grid place 21 where he did. A moving formal ceremony ensued as we set their patiently waiting (giving Bill enough time to settle his heart rate & buckle-up). The opening speech was conducted with speeches from venue developer Tony Roberts (with business partner Chris Watson alongside) and the official opening ribbon being cut by the local Mayor.
A “Gentlemen (& ladies as Judy Lyons was competing in her Gurney Eagle F5000) start your engines” was boomed out over the speakers, erupting in an earth moving roar of 5 litre V8 power as the 36 odd engines fired up. They then went on a two-lap warm up before the rolling start.
As the race progressed the pit lane became busy as mechanical gremlins forced the retirement of many drivers, including two of the leading drivers with Mike Dwyer – Lola T332 (retiring on the warm-up lap) and Tim Rush – McLaren M22. Then in came Marcus Pye with a broken right rear suspension upright – the experienced driver managed to keep the car from damaging itself on a wall.
Then, just as Bill was continuing to creep up the leader board – close to a top ten finish he pulled in with a broken gearbox (coupled with a 1-minute penalty received for apparently passing Marcus Pye under yellow flag).
The race, like the three before it for the weekend was convincingly won by NZ legend Ken Smith. Ken has been dominating this series since his return to F5000 racing two years ago, and also celebrated his 50th continuous year of motor racing.
Report by: Charles Rogers / Historic Racing Australia