Back when Formula 1 stars raced in NZ, and why they don't anymore
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The winner of this weekend’s Castrol Toyota Racing Series at Taupo takes home the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy.
Hulme was, and remains, New Zealand’s only Formula 1 World Champion.
It was awarded for winning the the Gran Premio Republica Argentina – Presidencia De La Nacion’ event, in 1974 and is a classic “old world” trophy.
Looking at that trophy, combined with the beautiful ‘New Zealand Motor Cup’ won by Dutchman Richard Verschoor last weekend at the Hampton Downs track, reminded me of the days when the top Formula 1 drivers visited New Zealand to race.
Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Brabham, Surtees, Prince Bira, Stewart, Hill and others raced against the likes of McLaren, Amon and yes, one Kenny Smith, who is still racing and winning today.
The races in New Zealand, as well as Australia, were part of what was called the Tasman Series.
So why do today’s drivers not make this same journey to get away from the European winter and race in warmer climes and other disciplines?
Some obvious answers:
●They earn too much money to bother.
●Their contracts with the manufacturers and teams forbid it.
●The Formula 1 season is much longer than the seasons of the late 1960s and early 70s with seasons of only 10 or 12 F1 GPs to occupy them. Now it may well be 21 or more events in a season.
●The tracks are not suitable.
●The threat of any injury that may affect the “main job”.
●Too expensive, too complicated and a dwindling audience.
I could go on and on with the reasons that Formula 1 drivers, let alone teams, will never again race in this country, at least while they are still active on “the big stage”.
It was also a different era for the drivers with wives and partners doing much of the timing and catering, local mechanics making up the team numbers, a party atmosphere that spilled over to “extra curricular activities” with all the drivers joining in. In short, it was a bit of a holiday. It was fun.
Also, many thousands of spectators would turn up to see these heroes whom they only read about or saw in black and white images weeks after the event.
Colour TV did not reach the New Zealand public until 1974.
The heyday of the Tasman series really did look like a Winter World Championship and was as keenly contested as any grand prix.
Sadly, the sport became more intense and the teams more demanding.
It was a glorious era that lives on through some of the historic trophies now competed for by the Castrol Toyota Racing Series drivers.
Not only the New Zealand Motor Cup, the origins of which go back to 1921, but the Lady Wigram Trophy, which harks back to the Wigram Airfield race and was first awarded in 1951.
As these polished and experienced drivers came to this country to race in that golden era, we now have young drivers who come here to polish their skills and gain experience so they can emulate those heroes of the past because, make no mistake, all of these young drivers, internationals as well as Kiwis, are well aware of the importance of adding their names to those trophies and cups.
But it is still that same sense of danger and excitement that drives these young competitors on.
In a recent interview with motorsport columnist Nigel Roebuck, and after his most recent race at the “24 Hours of Daytona” (where Fernando Alonso shared the driving with Lando Norris, the 2016 TRS Champion) Alonso was quoted as saying “I think I'll come back to Daytona. It's an iconic race, and it's in January. Instead of being in the gym, you're driving, and that's much better.”
It would be nice if more Formula 1 drivers thought that.