When current Williams F1 driver Lance Stroll won the 2015 Lady Wigram Trophy race, I congratulated him and asked if he knew the significance of the Lady Wigram Trophy race. His reply was that coming from Canada he had not heard of the race, to which I said, “When you are given the trophy on the podium, stop and read the famous names engraved on it, as yours will now join them.”
The three most important races contested in NZ single seater racing are the New Zealand Grand Prix, the New Zealand Motor Cup and the Lady Wigram Trophy. All three have remarkable race and driver histories (see notes below) and each has become an established iconic event within the motorsport makeup of this country. Over time all three have been threaded into the history of single seater racing in this country.
Tuesday’s announcement that the forthcoming Toyota Racing Series will by-pass Christchurch in favour of competing in Cromwell, thereby not involving the Lady Wigram Trophy, in this writer’s opinion is a crucial error of judgement.
The impact of this decision has sent alarm bells ringing through the single seater community. That such an important trophy will not be contested by international talent is robbing New Zealand motor racing of tomorrow’s history. All three races are so important for NZ single seater racing that they must be incorporated into the Toyota Racing Series. It must be non-negotiable.
The Lady Wigram Trophy has only been raced at two circuits in Canterbury. Between 1951 and 1994 the venue was the Wigram Airfield Circuit and from 2003 it has been the Mike Pero Motorsport Park (Ruapuna). (1995-2002, 2005 and 2013-14 the Trophy was not contested). The Canterbury Car Club will not, and should not, let it be contested outside of the club’s circuit at Ruapuna. There is little chance that could be raced at any other circuit.
Toyota’s press release titled Toyota Racing Series returns to Highlands Motorsport Park virtually confirms the return to the southern destination. There has only been one previous Highlands TRS round and too many cars, if I recall correctly, continued to hit the pit wall coming off the sweeping first turn.
The press release says: “We’ve wanted to take the series back to Highlands.” Really? So does TRS want to exclude the emerging international talent that comes to NZ from competing for the Lady Wigram Trophy?
Also their press release states that:
“The destination (Highlands Motorsport Park) will be attractive to the international drivers who come here to get valuable testing and racing kilometres during the northern hemisphere winter. It’s appropriate our top motor racing series starts near the adventure capital of New Zealand – Queenstown,”
This shows a lack of respect for the history of single seater racing in NZ and appreciation of the contribution the Lady Wigram Trophy has made to this. The young drivers who participate are serious racers and it is our opportunity to give them a shot at being a part of ‘history in the making’.
This – again, in this writer’s opinion – is the second key mistake that TRS has made in the last 12 months. The first was not sending a representative to Europe last winter to get in front of their customer base. This directly resulted in the smallest grids for a number of years in the 2018 series. Previous TRS management from 2005 had built up a very successful series. This took a lot of time, hard work and experimenting to discover what would work best. In the last 18 months there has been a complete management change leading to a move away from this recipe, without any obvious reason to justify it.
It is key decisions like these that undermine the very real status the TRS has here and around the world. It has the potential to dilute the established traditions that have made single seater racing the success that we see in NZ today and the traditions that have gone before. This in turn can hasten the demise of what has been successful, and has the potential for future decisions to be justified by variables that should never come into play.
TRS management and Toyota have deflected their decision onto Speedworks Events Ltd who organise, promote and run the Premier Motorsport Championship in New Zealand. The 2018/19 summer calendar is decided by Speedworks including the decision to move away from Christchurch to Highlands.
Behind the Speedworks decision is a labyrinth of stakeholders which include the different national championship, their organisers, teams and drivers, Motorsport NZ, car clubs, circuit owners, sponsors. Let us not forget also that money is king and can be the defining variable. Let us also not forget that Speedworks are in an unenviable position with so many stakeholders (and egos) wanting different outcomes. There priority is not necessarily about trophies and traditions.
It goes against a two-year agreement that Speedworks and the Canterbury Car Club made in 2017 and announced on the Speedworks website 9 May 2017.
Christchurch secures first 2018 Premier Motorsport Championship South Island date – “The circuit, which hosted the first round of this year’s championship, has secured the fixture for both 2018 and 2019.”
So, my word is not my bond? Both parties – Speedworks and the Canterbury Car Club – have different take on the negotiations that have taken place since the end of the 2017/18 season. One says the other wanted more money while the other party has said that they were happy to keep the same conditions.
However, the Toyota Racing Series is currently the premier race category in NZ. It has arguably held the summer racing program together since the demise of the NZV8s and following rivalry between warring V8 factions that saw the demise of what was once the top race category. They must be the deciding influence on whether to contest the Lady Wigram Trophy in Christchurch. The Canterbury Car Club are the caretakers of the trophy. They get to set the conditions on the contest.
As we have advocated before, the three prestigious trophies must be part of the annual Toyota Racing Series. It is non-negotiable. While decisions could have been better, they can always be changed. Unfortunately, it looks like this coming season’s calendar has already been set in concrete. There is now the need for both Speedworks and the TRS management to step back and consider the bigger picture.
Disclosure – I was born and bred and continue to live in Canterbury, where my boyhood was spent in awe of the F5000s competing for the annual Lady Wigram Trophy. Many years later I initiated the Karcher Racing team to compete in the inaugural Toyota Racing Series in 2005. We had a two-year campaign that included our number one driver Matt Hamilton (pictured above) in 2006 becoming the first winner of the Lady Wigram Trophy race by a TRS driver. That was a remarkable weekend where Matt was much quicker than anyone else in qualifying. He went on to dominate the weekend including the LWT race. It wasn’t a straight forward race with several safety car periods. One distinct memory I have was of a young Brendon Hartley. He was incredibly quick in that race but unfortunately banged wheels with another competitor. I remember him coming into the pits and his Victory Motor Racing Team jumping on his front wishbones, trying to bend them back into shape, then Hartley rejoining the field and still being blisteringly fast.
*The New Zealand Grand Prix
The New Zealand Grand Prix was first held in 1950 and is one of only two Grand Prix (the other is the Macau Grand Prix) for single seaters held outside of Formula One.
Past winners include Stirling Moss (1956, 1959, 1962), Jack Brabham (1958, 1960, 1961), John Surtees (1963), Bruce McLaren (1964), Graham Hill (1965, 1966), Jackie Stewart (1967), Chris Amon (1968, 1969), Ken Smith (1976, 2004). Keke Rosberg (1977, 1978), Teo Fabi (1979), Steve Millen (1980), Roberto Moreno (1982), David Oxton (1983), Davy Jones (1984, 1987), Ross Cheever (1985, 1986), Paul Radisich (1988), Craig Baird (1991, 1992, 1993), Greg Murphy (1994), Earl Bamber (2010), Nick Cassidy (2012, 2013, 2014), Lance Stroll (2015), Lando Norris (2016).
**The New Zealand Motor Cup
The NZ Motor Cup was first competed for in 1921 in a 50 mile event known as the Australasian Beach Championship. In 1953 it was donated to the NZ International Grand Prix Inc on condition that it be competed for annually in the Auckland Grand Prix race under its original title.
Past winners include Stirling Moss (1956, 1959, 1962,), Jack Brabham (1958, 1960, 1961),John Surtees (1963), Bruce McLaren (1964), Graham Hill (1965, 1966) Jackie Stewart (1967), Chri Amon (1970), Ken Smith (1976, 1990), Keke Rosberg (1977, 1978), Teo Fabi (1979), Steve Millen (1980), Roberto Moreno (1982), David Oxton (1983), Davy Jones (1984, 1987), Ross Cheever (1985,1986), Paul Radisich (1988), Craig Baird (1991, 1992), Greg Murphy (1994, 1995).
***The Lady Wigram Trophy
Racing at the Wigram Airfield began on a January weekend in 1949. It was in 1951 that the first Lady Wigram Trophy Race was staged. Nineteen starters lined up on a sodden track at the end of March. Unfortunately wet and showery conditions reduced attendance numbers on this occasion to around 10,000. Three Australian drivers brought cars across the Tasman for the inaugural Trophy Race. It was resolved that in future meeting dates would be brought forward to February at the latest in an endeavour to avoid autumn rains. (By 1957 attendance figures were nudging 30,000)
Past winners include Les Moore (1951, 1952), JAck Brabham (1960, 1961) Stirling Moss (1962), Bruce McLaren (1963, 1964), Jim Clark (1965, 1967, 1968), Jackie Stewart (1966), Jochen Rindt (1969), Graham McRae (1971, 1972, 1975), Ken Smith (1976, 1991, 2009), Larry Perkins (1978), David Oxton (1981), Robert Moreno (1982), Davy Jones (1984), Ross Cheever (1985), Paul Radisich (1987), Craig Baird (1990, 1992, 1993), Earl Bamber (2008), Lance Stroll (2015).
The full schedule for the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series is:
January 10-13, Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell
January 17-20, Teretonga Park, Invercargill
January 24-27, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato
January 31 – February 3, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo
February 7-10, Circuit Chris Amon, Feilding