Smaller than usual F5000 field for season finale – and that’s fine by event organiser

| Photographer Credit: Richard Dimmock

A smaller than usual field – just 12 cars – is set to contest the final round of this season’s SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at Hampton Downs this weekend. And – for once – that is fine by event organiser Chris Watson.

“Yes,’ Watson said yesterday. “Under normal circumstances we’d be going back to Tony Jack and the F5000 Association and asking them if there were any more cars they could rustle up. These, obviously, are far from ‘normal circumstances,’ however.

Glenn Richards (Lola T400) drove a great race to finish a season-best second place in the final SAS AUtoparts MSC race at Teretonga Park last month

Watson, of course, is referring to the current situation re the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the fact that this weekend’s Paul Fahey Legends of Speed meeting is one of the few motorsport ones going ahead, rather than being postponed, or cancelled outright – around the country, or indeed the world – this weekend.

“What we are trying to be,” says Watson, “is realistic. Obviously we appreciate and take very seriously both the letter and the intent of the Government’s directive that all social gatherings of more than 500 people be cancelled. However we also believe that by making a number of changes to the way we run our meetings we can continue ‘life as normal,’ or at least as normal as possible in these very abnormal times.”

To that end, and in consultation with the governing body of the sport in this country, MotorSport New Zealand, all entries for the meeting have been processed electronically, and none will be taken ‘on the day,’ meaning no personal contact between competitors and race officials.

There will not be a traditional ‘drivers’ meeting’ at the beginning of each day, either, all the information usually imparted at these meetings, emailed – or posted – to competitors this week. Also, to help keep densities of competitors and crew members as low as possible across the two days at the track Watson says that for this meeting they will use both pit areas, the traditional one alongside the start/finish straight, plus the newer one alongside the ‘club circuit.’

“Obviously, too,” he adds, “ we are making it clear in all our documentation and email contact with the competitors who have entered that, if they are feeling unwell or any member of their family or crew is, then they should do the right thing be everyone else and stay at home.

“And like the government, we will have zero tolerance for anyone thinking that they can ‘pop out’ to the circuit to ‘have a look’ if they have only just arrived here from overseas and are supposed to be self-isolating!

Michael Collins (Leda LT27) has been the driver to beat at recent rounds of the SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series this season

Finally all 12 drivers entered for the final round of the 2019/20 SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series are regulars with no recent returnees from overseas.

Favourite to qualify quickest, win races and put his name on the 2019/20 Tasman Cup is young Christchurch driver Michael Collins driving Queenstown-based car owner Alistair Hey’s Leda LT27.

Competition is expected to come from Aucklanders Grant Martin (Talon MR1/A), Glenn Richards and Shayne Windelburn (both Lola T400) as well as the category’s two father/son pairings of David (Talon MR1) and Codie (Lola T332) Banks, and Peter and Aaron Burson (both McRae GM1), plus former NZ Formula Ford champion Kevin Ingram (Lola T332) from Feilding.

There is still plenty to play for in the Class A category for earlier F5000 cars, too, with Tony Roberts in his high-wing McLaren M10A (main picture) still embroiled in a battle royal with season-long rival Frank Karl (McLaren M10B).

Which makes 11 cars, with the ‘12th man’ being Chris Watson himself……making his long awaited debut in the SAS Autoparts MSC series in his one-off McLaren M18-based Gardos OR2.

Chris Watson is set to make his long-awaited SAS Autoparts MSC Series debut his weekend in his Gardos OR2

“We actually finished our rebuild work on it several years ago now, and I’ve run it in the Formula Libre class at Hampton Downs before, but because it is a genuine Formula 5000 car I’ve always intended to run it in our series and decided – well before this whole COVID-19 thing blew up – that this would be the meeting,” said Watson.

The car is based on a McLaren M18 raced in Australia in period by Don O’Sullivan. That car was initially upgraded to M22-spec before O’Sullivan’s enterprising mechanic, Western Australian Jamie Gard, used the bulkheads and suspension as the basis of a very different chisel-nose/side radiator car he called the Gardos OR2.

The car’s best result was a 6th place finish in the 1979 Australian Grand Prix at Perth’s Wanneroo Park (now Barbagallo Raceway) in the hands of Barry Singleton. Three years earlier, with Keith Poole at the wheel, it also finished second in the Australian Hill Climb Championship.

Ross MacKay

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 a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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