‘A team’ for Manfeild classic

COSSIES, Godzilla, the mighty M3 … household names from a dominant motorsport category of the 1980s and early ‘90s share billboard status for a historic gathering at Manfeild this weekend.

An impressive field of 28 cars representing the Group A touring car era is a fresh addition to The Sound MG Classic, an annual chance for drivers of all types of classic cars to get onto the circuit and let rip.

This first time visit to Manfeild by the Historic Touring Cars register, for genuine and approved replica period touring cars, is largely due to the enthusiasm of Palmerston North member Warren Dunn, who races a landmark of the era, an E30 BMW M3.

He’s eager to see the precious metal perform on a ‘home’ circuit whose straights and cambered bends promise good pace.

“I’ve been working on getting the guys to Manfeild for several years – to date our class has been racing at the South Island tracks and at Hampton Downs. They said they’d be keen to come if I could find a race meeting to have us and it’s fantastic that the MG Car Club of Wellington has obliged.”

The ‘tintops’ add more lustre to a weekend whose status as the country’s best historic racing is reflected with a bumper programme also including Formula 5000s, Central Districts Muscle Cars, Pre-65s, Historics, Formula Juniors’ and diversity of mixed era offers, identified under Classic (pre-1978) mantle.

The span and size of fields means an unsurpassed schedule of 50 races over Saturday and Sunday and also demands practice and qualifying being held entirely on the Friday, another first for an celebration of this being the 30th consecutive year of this event.

Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane says competitor and fan enthusiasm continues to drive the MG Classic.

“The meeting is synonymous with our venue and has great status as one of those weekends fuelled by a real enthusiast spirit.”

Ron Robertson, chair of the organising committee, says the longevity and ongoing strength of the MG Classic speaks to the depth of ongoing interest in historic racing.

“That we have 305 entries is another reminder that classic racing in New Zealand is still alive and doing well. I think it will get stronger as years go by.”

The race meeting also has the added bonus of being a fundraiser for the Cancer Society. One generator of donations is the annual lunchtime rides around the circuit in a classic car. Manfeild stadium will also be a pit zone, so there will be plenty of rare and fascinating racing metal to be seen under the 7500 square metre roof.

The addition of the Historic Racing Register reminds that history never stands still.

“You are going to see some great cars and our aim is to give them enough of a good time that they will want to come back so we could make it a regular thing.”

Such is the mix and depth of talent and historic vehicles that every race will have its fans, he says, and this year particular effort was also put into ensuring ongoing involvement for meeting’s enduring oldies – drivers and cars.

“We’re really proud that we have Neil Moore’s 1951 Jowett Jupiter that has been at every single MG Classic among the number of 1950s’ cars. Don McLean is racing the car (Datsun 240Z) he took to the first meeting in 1985. They are the people and the cars that, I think, make the difference to this meeting.”

Also out in force are Formula Junior single seaters that hold great international significance. “In past years we have generally had one or two but this time we have 10.”

The Group A field will also bring back rich memories. A relatively short lifespan – just six years from 1982 as an international classification, and six more as a domestic championship – potentially sells short the huge impact made by a formula devised by motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, as a way of increasing top-level manufacturer involvement.

The concept of brands creating competition cars from showroom stock proved hugely popular and Kiwis enjoyed priority viewing, with the famous Wellington street race being part of a world championship.

This put particular spotlight on the talents of established New Zealand greats including the country’s only F1 champion, Denny Hulme, and Australia-based Jim Richards and vaunted international racers, including a pair of young Italian up-and-comers – Italian Emanuele Pirro and Roberto Ravaglia – who dominated the Wellington waterfront.

Dunn was an avid spectator and was so captivated he vowed he would one day own an M3 racer of that era – a mission achieved when a few years ago he tracked down an American market road car that arrived ex-Japan that has now been transformed into a faithful replica of those factory racers, but with a twist.

It initially raced in the works team’s Warsteiner brewery livery but after matching it against some genuine examples and considering his a poor cousin he had a change of mind. So his 2.3-litre joy is now in the equally eye-catching Tauber Tic Tac scheme as raced in Germany’s domestic championship by Canadian Allen Berg.

“One of the club’s aims is to get as many variations of cars as possible and I think it achieves this. It really stands out.”

Dunn says Historic Touring Cars members enjoy demonstrating their cars but racing reflects members’ mutual respect for rising values and rarity.

The category’s presence will at last tick a box left untouched from the 1980s – though Group A cars tested at Manfeild ahead of those Wellington events, Mrs Keane says circuit records suggest they have never raced here as a specific class.

Programme details and further meeting information can be found on the Manfeild and MG Classic websites.

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