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Key Kiwi F5000 drivers have ‘unfinished business’ in the USA this month

Two key members of the four-man SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival series squad who have travelled to the USA this week to join compatriots from there, Australia and the UK in celebrating the 55th anniversary of the stock-block 5-litre V8 wings-and-slicks single-seater F5000 category at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion meetings at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California reckon they have unfinished business from the last time each made the trip.

‘I’ve definitely got some (‘unfinished business’) to attend to,” says Aucklander Glenn Richards \(Lola T400).“I had a major engine issue (a conrod exited the brand new motor via the dry sump) the last time I was there, and though I did get a chance to see what all the fuss was about at the Pre Reunion meeting the weekend before I didn’t get to run at the main event the weekend after, which – as I’m sure you can imagine – was fairly frustrating, to say the least.

“So yes, I am certainly looking forward to getting back up there and hopefully being able to compete at both weekend meetings this time around.”

Category stalwart, Tony Roberts (McLaren M10A ‘high-wing’), who now calls Napier in the Hawke’s Bay home, is the other member of the four-man squad with a point to prove after coming up short the last time he made the trip.

“Yes, he said on Monday,”that would have been when a driver error on my part saw the McLaren M10A slide off the front straight at Laguna Seca at 250 km/h in the preliminary race on the final day. I had thought to myself that I could take the high-speed kink halfway down the ‘straight,’ foot to the floor, (don’t be a ‘girl’s blouse’ etc.), but the car ‘stepped out’ and stayed out!

“Though I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t able to compete in the final Feature race due to damage – obviously – to the nose and radiator of the car.”

“So, to say that I am looking forward to what’s coming up over the next two weeks up there at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway is something of an understatement. I’m pleased to say, too, that the rear wing is now to the correct McLaren specifications, and I believe it will work a lot better than the old non-standard wing.”

There’s obviously more to entering your car at each meeting and simply turning up on the day of course. At the end of each year, for instance, the organizers call for categories and series to pitch for a place on the programme at the next year’s August events.

This year, Chevrolet’s iconic Corvette is the chosen marque, while F5000 is the featured category. This is thanks in large part to the fact that for the past two occasions they have been invited, the US F5000 Drivers ‘ Association, has, with the active support of fellow series and marque enthusists from here, Australia and the UK, been able to put together near capacity grids of quick, reliable stock-block 302 cu.in. V8-powered wings-and-slicks-equipped single seaters which the crowds of enthusiasts that flock to the two meetings each year obviously love.

While the vast majority of those fans are relatively recent converts to the sport, the two-weekend, Rolex-backed celebration of all things ‘historic’ also provides original drivers from the various different periods to catch up with their old cars.

Glenn Richards discovered this first hand at the 50th anniversary meeting back in 2018, when an ‘older gent’, Mike Engstrand came up and ‘introduced himself by way of saying that he used to race my car!’

The car – the ex-Eppie Wietzes Lola T400 – had been converted into one of the then popular ‘single-seat’ Can-Am series ‘sports cars’ by the time Engstrand entered the picture, and though the Richards’ car is now back wearing its original F5000 open wheeler bodywork, he says, it didn’t seem to matter to Engstrand.

“There’s obviously a fascination with being reunited with a car even when its very different (F5000 vs Can Am). For instance, as soon as Mike jumped in the car, he said – “that’s the same steering wheel it had when I drove it, then went all misty eyed as he relived his exploits in the car.

“He lives in Florida now, but I bet he’s back again for this year’s events.”

Indeed, if he does make it all the way from the far south-east of the country to the Monterey Peninsula in northern California, he’ll have company, in the form of fellow Floridian retiree Wil Painter.

Painter was the second owner of the McLaren M10A-9 now raced with swashbuckling success by Tony ‘The Pirate’ Roberts in the Class A (for older 1968-1972 models) category of the SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series. Painter purchased the car in 1970, on leaving the Navy, and raced the full season in it in the US and Canada before on-selling it at the end of 1971 to a fellow named Merle Brennan.

“Long story, short,” says Roberts, “I’ve struck up an on-line friendship with Wil, and he has told me that he has decided. to make the long drive of 1500 kms to Laguna Seca to meet me. Something I am really looking forward to because he sounds like a real gentleman.’’

The two Rolex-sponsored race meetings, which this year kick off with the two-day Pre Reunion gathering at the WeatherTech Laguna Seca circuit over the August 12/13 weekend and end the Saturday afterwards (Sat Aug 19) with a high stakes day of finals action after the main four-day Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion meeting, bracket a week of non-stop car action in the Monterey area including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance plus major car auctions, brand/marque activations etc.

“It’s a little bit like the Fieldays at Hamilton, but for cars and car people,” says Glenn Richards. “The infield at the track alone is full of displays and traders and is days of entertainment on its own. Last time we were there, for instance, Audi launched its new E-Tron, and our crew all ended up with Range Rover hats after driving one through an obstacle course which had been constructed to include steep hills, a bit of water etc.”

The four-driver Kiwi group which headed to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca this week consists of Glenn Richards (Lola T400) and Tony Roberts (‘high-wing’ McLaren M10A), plus Tony Galbraith (Lola T332), and Alastair Chalmers (Chevron B32).

Joining them on the grid after sharing the NZ group’s heavily subsidised (thanks to long time Tasman Cup Revival Series co-sponsor, international shipping line MSC) transport deal, are five Australian owner/drivers, Bill Hemming (Elfin MR8), Dean Camm (Chevron B24), Peter Brennan (Lola T330), Charlie Talbot (Lola T332), and Paul Zazryn (Lola T332).

The trip would simply not have been possible without the support of a number of companies and individuals who work with MSC, starting with the series’ Auckland-based freight forwarder, Alex Pilyay, and including MSC, Kiwi Container Lifting (US) and their agents in the US – RS Express and in Australia – Clarke Global Logistics and Mainstream Global.

In the USA the four Kiwis and five Australians will join 20 of the best drivers from the US series plus UK-based American expat (not to mention co-owner and current manager of the resurgent McLaren F1 racing team), Zak Brown (Lola T332) on the grid for F5000 races at the four-day Rolex Monterey Reunion meeting between August 16 & 19, and the two-day Pre-Reunion gathering this coming weekend (Aug 12/13).

The SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series is organised and run with the support of sponsors SAS Autoparts, MSC, NZ Express Transport, Bonney’s Specialised Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants, Pacifica, Avon Tyres, Webdesign and Exide Batteries.

You can follow the series on Facebook at F5000 New Zealand or via the official website www.f5000.co.nz

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