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Value of competing in NZ F5000 driven home with results in Rolex Motorsport Reunion Meetings in the US

The value of regular competition in the New Zealand and Australia-based SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series was driven home – with some gusto, it must be said – at both rounds of this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion classic/historic motor racing meetings which concluded last Saturday week (Aug 19) at the storied WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca circuit situated in the hills behind the northern Californian city of Carmel-By-The-Sea on the Monterey Peninsula.

Though both the F5000 category races at the ‘main’ Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion meeting were won by top local (US) driver Kirt Bennett (Lola T332) the American ace was actually out-qualified by Melbourne-domiciled Australian Paul Zazryn (Lola T332) the driver who won both the F5000 races at the first of the two Rolex-backed meetings (tagged the Pre-Reunion event) the weekend before.

Third and fourth , respectively, across the finish line in both races, meanwhile, were the first of the four SAS Autorparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series regulars from New Zealand, Glenn Richards (Lola T400), from Auckland, and Tony Galbraith (Lola T332) from nearby Te Kauwhata.

The third member of the travelling Kiwi troupe to make the three-week long trip from his home in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, to the famed WeatherTech Raceway, Laguna Seca, to help members of the US-based Formula 5000 Drivers’ Association celebrate the 55th anniversary of the F5000 category, Alastair Chalmers (Chevron B32), again did much better in each of the (Friday 10 lap/Sat 8 lap) races than he did in the dedicated F5000 category qualifying session the Thursday before.

In that session the best lap time Chalmers could manage was a 1:31.722, good enough for P9 on the grid.

Come the first race of the weekend, on Friday Aug 18, however, and Chalmers was a changed man, earning the race Hard Charger award for quickly catching, passing and dispatching the two Aussies who had started immediately in front of him, Peter Brennan in his meticulously rebuilt ex Lella Lombardi Lola T330, and Dean Camm in his ex James Dunkel US-market 1973 customer model Chevron B24, then set his sights on the ex-David Prophet/Jim Moore McLaren M10B of US-domiciled, expat Aussie, Bruce Leeson. He got close – very close, in fact but this time Chalmers had to be happy with 7th place.

As one of the Kiwis now firmly established in the ‘leading bunch,’ Glenn Richards found himself in a unique position to be able to observe how both the Friday and Saturday races unfolded.

“For me, he said, “the weekend started with qualifying on Thursday. The top 3 cars were within 0.4 seconds of each other, and there was another group around the 1.32-1.34 range who ended up in a battle in both races. There was also, obviously a battle-within-a battle between the earlier-build cars of which the fourth member of our Kiwi contingent – Tony “Anthony” Roberts ( as he was known by the officials because that’s what his licence says) was very much involved in..

“In that first race, the top American guy, Kirt Bennett (Lola T332) passed poleman Paul Zazryn after three laps then pretty much ran away and hid, setting the fastest race lap of the weekend – a 1:22.945 – on his way to what – despite Paul Zazryn’s best intentions – was a quite emphatic and largely untroubled race win.

The newly resurfaced track had really rubbered up by this stage in proceedings and – as leading Kiwi, Glenn Richards (Lola T400), was happy to confirm – was ‘fast, very fast.’

So fast, in fact, that the previous F5000 lap record – a 1:27-something – was pretty much obliterated over the main race ‘weekend’ with the top three cars circulating below the previous record for the entire weekend.

Glenn Richards takes up the story;

“I had another lonely race to start and finish in third place but I am very pleased to say that one of our other Kiwis, Tony Galbraith (Lola T332) took 4th after a lot of early pressure from Bruce Leeson and Todd Gerstenberger (Chevron B24).

“Alastair Chalmers also again worked his way up from an underwhelming qualifying to come in 7th, while behind him Aussies Peter Brennan (Lola T330) and Dean Camm (Chevron B24) had a race-long battle with Camm coming out on top.

“Finally, Bill Hemming (Elfin MR8) pulled off a great pass into turn 2 to momentarily split the two ‘high-wing’ cars of Tony Roberts and Paul Kuhl, however Kuhl managed to get back in front before the chequered flag was waved.

To the second (and final) race of the event on Saturday, and this time Paul Zazryn really took the battle to Kirt Bennett, enjoying a good scrap for the race and overall round victory, with the Aussie ace making up a lot of ground going through traffic to be right on the gearbox of Bennett’s Lola T332 when… the chequered flag was produced after just 8 laps of the promised 10!

“It would definitely have been interestimg, at the very least, to see what the result ‘up front’ would have been,”said Richards.” had the race been allowed to run for the full 10 laps. But time was getting on and the organizers of the event were slowly but surely slipping behind schedule so something had to give!

“Not that I would have affected my own race. ………because though I was able to stay close enough to the battling T332s for a couple of laps I gradually lost contact and played it safe for the rest of the race. I wasn’t under any pressure and spent the last half of the race thinking about how very lucky I was to be driving a fast car on such a famous circuit on a sunny day in front of a big crowd. Life just doesn’t get much better than that!

“I may not get another opportunity to compete at Laguna Seca and so I soaked up the atmosphere during those last few laps.

“Tony Galbraith found himself in a similar situation in 4th place but used his time and track position wisely, setting his quickest lap time of the meeting – a 1:29.024 – on the 8th (and last!) lap.”

Meanwhile, as his confidence – both in himself and his car – rose, expat Englishman and adopted Kiwi, Alastair Chalmers went even quicker, finally getting past local track ace Bruce Leeson’s fast and smartly driven McLaren M10B by setting a scintiillatng lap time of 1:28.455 on the 8th and final lap of the second (and final weekend) race.

At this late stage of the race there was nothing he could practically do about making inroads into the 8 seconds plus change buffer the other driver he had been chasing down all race, top US series regular Todd Gerstenberger (Chevron B24 ), had built, but you got the distinct impression from a steely-eyed Chalmers that had the race been any longer it would indeed have been a case of ‘game on.’

“Back behind Bruce Leeson’s McLaren M10B, the nosecone of Peter Brennan’s Lola T330 was once again seemingly glued to the gearbox of the Chevron B24 of fellow Aussie sparring partner Dean Camm.

“This time though it was a beaming Brennan who reached the finish line in front, having broken the tow from the Camm Chevron on the last lap then – after getting a better, cleaner run off the 90-degree final corner – simply blasting past a surprised Camm as the pair accelerated up the start/finish straight for the final time.

“Kiwi Tony (aka Anthony) Roberts was actually catching that pair until on the final lap he ran off the track and into the sand as he negotiated the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca circuit’s infamous Corkscrew complex, dropping a couple of places and letting the other ‘high-wing’ car through.”

Though this time around he did get to start the final race of the two-weekend tour (as opposed to the last time he made the trip when he crashed out of the morning race at the final round, damaging his then only recently-acquired McLaren M10A too badly to contemplate repairing it in time to run it in the final race that year) Roberts’ latest trip to the US didn’t go quite to plan, either.

For a start, his original Napier-Auckland flight was cancelled, meaning he missed his connecting flight to San Francisco and could not get another to drop him there before the Friday before the first Rolex Monterey Motorsports Pre-Reunion meeting was due to start. Then just three laps into his first practise session in his distinctive ‘high-wing’ McLaren M10A, the bolts holding the car’s crown wheel and pinion together sheared.

Fortunately, with some help, that was repaired in time, so no further racing time was lost over the weekend.

However, on top of everything else, Roberts developed a viral throat infection and really wasn’t in his usual peak physical condition, eventually losing his voice completely for a couple of days.

“This week has been a real endurance test, though it hasn’t been all doom and gloom,“ the man himself admitted as he was preparing to return home. “What, with a fuzzy head and losing out on third place in Class A in the last race when I went off the side of the Corkscrew, that wasn’t so good. However, I did manage to do a magnificent drift in the gravel right in front of the crowd before getting back on the track. And at least I finished all four races over the two weekends this time!”

The four-driver Kiwi group at the WeatherTech-Laguna Seca Raceway in Northern California consistsed of Glenn Richards (Lola T400) Tony Galbraith (Lola T332), Tony Roberts (‘high-wing’ McLaren M10A) 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, were five Australian owner/drivers, Bill Hemming (Elfin MR8), Dean Camm (Chevron B24), Charlie Talbot (Lola T332), Peter Brennan (Lola T330) and Paul Zazryn (Lola T332).

The five, in turn, were joined by a sixth, Philip Lewis from Cessnook in the Hunter Valley, who leased a Lola T332 to compete at the main Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion meeting when it became obvious that delays getting parts would mean that his own Matich A50 would not be ready in time to meet the early June shipping deadline ex New Zealand.

The trip was made possible by 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.

The four Kiwis and six Australians joined 9 of the best drivers from the US series on the grid for F5000 races at the Rolex Monterey Reunion meeting which started on Wednesday August 16 and continued until Saturday, August 19.

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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