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Motorsport: Upgraded Hampton Downs hosts Festival of Motor Racing
By Colin Smith • 20/01/2016
NZ Festival of Motor Racing - Weekend One
While the past was being showcased on the track, a key part of the future of New Zealand motor racing provided the backdrop.
Construction progress has been rapid at the Hampton Downs venue in recent weeks, as the plans of new owner Tony Quinn take shape.
The opening weekend of this year’s Porsche-themed seventh annual NZ Festival of Motor Racing activity saw the upgraded pit lane complex, with second-floor corporate suites and modern race control centre, in use for the first time.
Invercargill's Robert Cunninghame leads the Historic Muscle Car field in his 1965 Ford Mustang. Picture/Colin Smith.
There’s increased tar seal paddock space, a pedestrian bridge being constructed over the track at the approach to turn two, and, while racing was being staged on a scorching Saturday, the earth-moving equipment was still at work on the circuit extension.
The extent of change at the venue in the five weeks since the Suzuki Series bike meeting in early December, and the Porsche Festival, has been considerable.
Completion of the track extension will provide the opportunity to run two simultaneous events or a longer international standard circuit.
The official relaunch of Hampton Downs will be for the third round of the Australian GT Endurance Championship event in October.
The opening weekend of Festival racing action saw Ken Smith set the pace in the MSC Formula 5000 category. The Auckland veteran won all three races — a red flag-interrupted Saturday prelim, and both Sunday races — in his 1976 Lola T332.
Ken Smith leads the MSC Formula 5000 field at the start of Saturday's preliminary race. Picture Colin Smith.
The action took place behind Smith with Aucklanders Alan Dunkley (Lola T332) and David Banks (Talon MR1) battling for the podium places. In the 12-lap feature race, Rotorua’s Brett Willis (Lola T330) joined the battle with a forceful drive.
Once Willis had cleared the Lola T332 of Sefton Gibb (Napier) to take fourth position, he chased down the duelling Dunkley and Banks. Willis passed Banks on the final lap to gain third place.
The class that brought the biggest crowd to the fenceline was the Historic Muscle Cars. The late 1960s and early 1970s “big banger” saloons on crossply racing tyres deliver an exciting spectacle and four races provided three winners.
Dave Sturrock (Auckland) achieved morning wins on Saturday and Sunday in his 1967 Camaro, while Rodger Cunninghame (Invercargill) was the Saturday afternoon winner in his 1965 Mustang.
Howard Wood’s rapid BMW Alpina 2002 Tii snapped at the heels of the V8s, a reverse top-10 start for the final race gave Wood an early break and the 2.0-litre machine stayed in front, chased by the 6.2-litre 1967 Camaro of Papamoa’s Kevin Gimblett.
Gimblett didn’t win a race on the first weekend, but was always a frontrunner with three second placings and a fourth.
Aucklander Graeme Cameron driving a 1973 ADF won all four Historic Formula Ford races and Dannevirke’s Jon Telford — driving the ex-Kieran Wills Mazda RX8 — won three times from four in the Historic Sports Sedans, but had to battle each time with the 1970 Camaro of Colin Meadows (Auckland).
Hampton Downs hosts the second weekend of the festival, starting on Friday with several programme changes.
A Formula Libre grid replaces the F5000 and Formula Fords, while Heritage Touring Cars and Pre-65s also join the line-up and there will be a 30-minute enduro on Saturday and 60-minute event on Sunday.