New motor racing series offers alternative path to NZ title glory

From humble – if determined – beginnings with his novelty-based 24 Hours of LeMons events over the past six years, Auckland businessman-turned motorsport event promotor Dr Jacob Simonsen is about to go ‘mainstream’ – with his first ‘serious’ New Zealand Championship status Pro National Endurance Championship series.

The three-round series of 3 & 6-Hour endurance races kicks off this month (on Sat. July 17) at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in the northern Waikato and is targeting teams of drivers of ‘mid-level, mid-priced, mid-performance cars’ to compete for ‘NZ Championship status across three points-accumulating 3-hour and 6-hour endurance rounds.’

Any team of two drivers with a ‘mid-level/speed car’ currently competing in – say – the 2K Cup, Honda Cup, or the BMW, Mazda or SsangYong Racing Series will be eligible to join a number of Simonsen’s 12 & 24 Hour LeMons event regulars keen to step up and ‘test their mettle’ in ‘New Zealand’s newest multiple distance/time endurance championship.’

Simonsen recently completed a major re-branding exercise on his portfolio of motorsport events under a new ‘umbrella’ brand, NaZCAR, and the setting up of the Pro Series marks a victory of sorts for the former entertainment industry mover and shaker, and his efforts to set up an alternative to the events – and arguably more importantly, the infrastructure and processes of – long-time incumbent administrator of motorsport events in this country, MotorSport NZ.

Hampton Downs will host the opening round of the new NaZCAR organisation’s NZ Championship title 3 & 6 Hour Pro Series later this month

As he said this week; “We want to offer ANYONE the opportunity to compete in a serious motorsport race with the possibility of becoming an NZ Champion…..without having to spend a fortune or struggle through needless red-tape…”

Having decided – after running his first 24 Hours of Lemons event (at Hampton Downs in 2016) under a permit from MotorSport NZ – that ‘there had to be a better way’, Simonsen was instrumental in setting up ‘just that,’ the Australasian Auto Sport Alliance, a 100% NZ-owned-and-operated agency of Australia’s independent motorsport permitting, licencing and insurance provider, the Australian Auto Sport Alliance.

‘The key issue for me,” he says, were the processes we had access to with the AASA; everything was on line so it was much more cost-effective, both for me to run my events and people – especially those new to motorsport – to enter them.”

This was particularly important to Simonsen, who realised that what was missing at events he went to when he first arrived here, were, newcomers.

“I don’t know whether it was obvious to anyone else,” he said this week’ “but it certainly was to me.”

Not only was the cost of getting into a serious national category prohibitively expensive, even some of the marque touring car categories cost an arm and a leg, yet no one – bar kindred spirit James Watson and his 2K CUP initiative – seemed to be remotely interested in addressing the issue.

Simonsen. “Talk about sink or swim. And woe betide anyone looking like they might actually be having fun along the way.

Motor racing, according to the powers that be at the time, was supposed to be a serious business, even at a grass roots level, and they became very suspicious of you if it looked remotely like you might actually be enjoying yourself. Which just didn’t seem right to me!”

Fortunately, Simonsen had seen first hand, during time he spent in the US, the boost – both in terms of the numbers of first timers attracted by and to it, and to the morale of those already involved – that a true ‘fun’ event like a 24 Hours of LeMons could give to the sport.

Best defined as an older car (closer to the end, rather than the beginning of its economic life on the road) purchased for  $1,000 or less then race-prepared and ‘themed,’ a LeMon (a play on term ‘Lemon’ often used to describe a cheap, older car) is then raced by teams of five or more drivers over a range of classic ‘endurance distances up to the full 24 hours.

Just like their (rather more) illustrious Porsche and Ferrari cousins are at circuits like Daytona in the United States, and – of course – LeMans in France, each year.

Having been instrumental in setting up and trialling the 24 Hours of LeMons events in Australia from 2015, Simonsen brought the franchise with him to New Zealand where he ran his first 24 Hours of LeMons at Hampton Downs in 2016. He has since run various formats of 12 Hour and 24 Hour races for an ever expanding group of keen teams, with a dozen ever-expanding events under his belt, so far! And needless to say, he reckons he has loved every minute of it.

“Kiwis are such an incredibly creative bunch. We’ve seen all sorts of contraptions and car mods in the Lemons series over the years. Crazy, fun and safe – the way it should be!”

Last year’s continuous 24 Hour event at Hampton Downs for instance saw a NZ record 77 cars (and over 400 drivers!) line up before the start, with previous 24 hours of LeMons events regularly attracting over 50 cars and 250+ drivers.

And this year – in a move unprecedented in the over 100-years of organised motor racing meetings in this country, Simonsen had to put the Event Full sign up late last month for the continuous 24 Hours of Nazcar event scheduled for late September, with well over 100 teams (500+ drivers) registered.

“Which I’d like to think of as an indication that we are actually doing something right,’ he says.

For more information on the upcoming inaugural three-round Pro Series go to nazcar.nz/pro-series or check out the Nazcar24 page on Facebook.

2021 NAZCAR PRO SERIES
Rnd 1: July 17 (Sat) Hampton Downs Motorsport Park. Northern Waikato
Rnd 2: August 14 (Sat) Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Northern Waikato
Rnd 3 Sept 04 (Sat) Pukekohe Park Raceway, Pukekohe.

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines contract media work with weekend Mountain Bike missions and trips to grassroots drift days.

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