Kiwis head to US to compete

The annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion meeting at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California is one of the biggest and most prestigious historic motor racing meetings in the world – and this year a group of Kiwis will be joining F5000 category counterparts from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia at the August 13-16 event.

The Reunion meeting is part of a two-week long celebration of classic cars which includes a Pre-Reunion meeting at the Laguna Seca circuit the weekend before (which all the Kiwi and Australian drivers are competing at) and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 13.

As such competition for a place on the programme is intense and the inclusion this year marks the culmination of a number of years work by members of the US-based Formula 5000 Registry.

“It’s a big deal, alright,” says the president of the New Zealand Formula 5000 Association, Roger Williams. “Monterey is one of the three big historic race meetings they have in the ‘States each year but the last time Formula 5000s ran there (at Laguna Seca) as an SCCA category was in 1976.”

There is also a strong ‘Kiwi connection’ thanks to renowned constructor/driver Graham McRae.

Three-time Tasman Cup series champion McRae raced at the Laguna Seca circuit a number of times between 1972 and 1975, the highlight winning the Monterey Grand Prix on his way to victory in the L&M Continental 5000 championship in 1972 in a car of his own design, the Leda (later McRae) GM1.

This year  Ford’s  Shelby GT350 Mustang is the featured vehicle at the meeting and with historic Formula 1s from the Masters  Historic Racing series in Europe,  the stock-block 5-litre Formula 5000s are one of two featured single-seater categories.

Heading the 12-strong contingent of MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series regulars from New Zealand is three-time champion Steve Ross from Dunedin who will drive his ex Jim & Chuck Sarich /Quicksilver Racing McRae GM1, a car which raced at the Laguna Seca track in 1974.

Joining him at the meeting are fellow Kiwis David Abbott and Phil Mauger (Lola T430s), David Arrowsmith (Lotus 70B), Alan Dunkley (Lola T140), Grant Martin (Talon MR1A), Lindsay O’Donnell (Begg FM5), Glenn Richards (Lola T400), Tony Roberts (McLaren M10A), Poul Christie (McLaren M10B) and Brett Willis (Lola T300), and UK-based Greg Thornton (Chevron B24).

Also familiar to followers of the MSC series here and across the Tasman are the four Australian drivers heading to the US for the meeting, John Bryant (Lola T140), Bill Hemming (Elfin MR8), Phil Lewis (Matich A50), and Paul Zazryn (Lola T332), as well as recent (2011) Lady Wigram Trophy race winner Jay Esterer (McRae GM1), from Canada.

Though the drivers are different, the long-planned trip will be a ‘racing return’ for many of the cars, with most – like the Steve Ross McRae GM1 – originally sold and raced in the United States, and many having been raced at the Laguna Seca circuit by their original drivers first time around.

The British-built Lola chassis is by far the most popular of the many F5000 marques set to be represented with 17 – ranging from the first T140 to the final T430 – entered.

McRae, McLaren, Surtees and Eagle are next with three each, followed by Chevron, Crossle and McKee with two each and the New Zealand-built Begg, Australian-built Elfin and Matich, UK-built Lotus and March, and US-built Talon, Webster, Shadow and Le Grand with one each

Heading the ‘home’ contingent in the 44-car field is Tony Adamowicz (Gurney Eagle) who won the US Formula 5000 title in 1969, and with recent New Zealand visitor Eric Haga (Lola T190) is one of two originals attracted back to the category by the US Register’s annual Revival Series and events like the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

With shipping assistance from series’ naming rights sponsor MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) and transport to and from port by fellow series’ sponsors NZ Express Transport and Bonney’s Specialized Bulk Transport,  the New Zealand and Australian cars left for the US this month with their drivers flying out closer to the time.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is situated in the foothills behind Monterey approximately two-and-a-half hours south of San Francisco.

Media: Fast Company; Photo: Alex Mitchell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

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