Forty years ago it was Finland’s Keke Rosberg – father of newly crowned and just-retired Formula 1 world champion Nico – who was making his mark on the New Zealand motor racing scene.
Rosberg was in New Zealand for the 1977 Peter Stuyvesant International Series racing a Chevron B34 Formula Pacific car for Fred Opert Racing.
The opening round of the series was at Mt Maunganui’s Baypark Raceway on January 3 1977 where Rosberg was the fastest qualifier but retired just four laps into the 75-lap race with an electrical problem.
The race featured a three-way battle at the front with Kiwi Steve Millen (Chevron) claiming victory after compatriot Dave McMillan spun his Ralt RT1 a few laps from the finish. McMillan recovered to finish third behind Australian Bruce Allison (Ralt RT1).
Race winner Steve Millen on the inside line as Dave McMillan spins at the Baypark hairpin just seven laps from the finish of New Zealand's first Formula Pacific international race in January 1977. Photo / Jimmy Joe, Bay of Plenty Times
The Baypark event was the first international Formula Pacific race to be held in New Zealand (there had been late-1976 Gold Star national events) as the 1.6-litre cars had just replaced the V8-powered Formula 5000s as New Zealand’s premier single-seater formula.
Six days later at Pukekohe, Rosberg was the convincing winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix ahead of Californian Tom Gloy (Tui BH2) and Jamaica’s Richard Melville (March 76B).
Rosberg would go on to win the Manfeild and Teretonga races on the next two weekends and finished second to Gloy at the Lady Wigram Trophy to secure the inaugural Formula Pacific title.
The Finn would return to win the New Zealand series in January 1978, once again driving for Opert and with future Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal as his team-mate.
Finland's Keke Rosberg won back-to-back New Zealand Formula Pacific titles in 1977 and 1978. Jimmy Joe, Bay of Plenty Times
That was a winning start to Rosberg’s 1978 campaign that along with European Formula 2 and North American Formula Atlantic victories also saw him graduate to Formula 1 with drives for the Theodore and ATS teams.
Rosberg drove the Theodore TR1 to victory in extreme wet conditions at the non-championship BRDC International Trophy Formula 1 race at Silverstone in 1978 and went on to drive in F1 for the Wolf, Fittipaldi, Williams (winning the 1982 world title) and McLaren teams.