SMITH COMPLETES WINNING MSC F5000 SERIES TRIFECTA AT HAMPTON DOWNS


Defending MSC series champion Steve Ross (McRae GM1) ran the wily veteran close - the margin at the chequered flag just 0.139 of a second - and fastest qualifier Clark Proctor (March 73A-1) made up time on both over the last three laps but as was the case in the other two MSC series races over the weekend Smith was in front when it counted.  

"Clark actually said to me before the race that if I got alongside him he would let me go because he reckoned he'd sooner hunt me down for 15 laps rather than have me hunt him down and I was fine with that, " chuckled Smith. "  

And Steve Ross? 

 "He did get alongside me at one stage with both of us sliding around a bit but I knew I could get four or five car lengths on him coming out of that final corner. Whether I could have held him out for another one lap or 10 I don't know."

Smith and Proctor got the better of Ross off the rolling start but Ross had muscled his way past Proctor by the second lap and was ahead of the first of the UK visitors, Greg Thornton (McRae GM1), fast-starting Australian Paul Zazryn (Lola T332) and fellow visitors Peter Dunn (March 73A/05),  Michael Whatley (Surtees TS8) and Mark Dwyer (Lola T400) when the yellow flag came out while safety workers retrieved Bill Hemming's stranded Elfin MR8.  

After two laps under the yellow flag Smith got the best of the re-start with Ross and Proctor tucking in behind and easing away from Thornton, Zazryn, Whatley, Dwyer, Dunn and Brett Willis (Lola T330).   

As the race progressed Thornton retained a lonely fourth place, Zazryn, Whatley and Dwyer remained close and category young gun Alan Dunkley (Lola T142) started making his presence felt.

Brett Willis was also moving forward, catching and passing Dwyer and closing on Whatley. And on the last lap Dunn managed to find a way past Paul Zazryn as did Alan Dunkley on Mark Dwyer.  

Zazryn was again the first of the Australian drivers home and expressed himself very happy with his progress.

"To come over here, learn the track, make a few changes to the car and do what we've done, it's been fantastic," he said. "I like to have a go and that's exactly what I've been able to do this weekend."   

Dunkley expressed similar sentiments after his successful last lap ambush on Mark Dwyer

"I wasn't dead set on passing him," said the 24-year-old who drives the oldest car in the field, "but when I saw an opportunity I pulled out one of my old karting moves, parked myself where he wanted to be mid-corner then kicked the clutch so I could get the jump on him down the straight."  

Veteran Michael Whatley had a similar tale to tell, despite losing fourth gear  - and with it a couple of hard-won places - over the last two laps. 

 "I've always been good on cold tyres at the beginning of a race," he explained. "My car slides all over the place anyway so I guess I'm used to it."  

Happy, meanwhile, just to be back on the grid at the meeting was former New Zealand saloon car ace, Peter Sundberg who joined the MSC F5000 series three years ago but did not run last season.  

"I've had some health issues, which are now resolved fortunately, so yesterday was my first time back in the car in two years," he said.

"It's great to be back too, and the car is fantastic, though to be fair I have spent most of the time this weekend running round on my own. It would have been nice to have been able to follow someone around and learn something but when I was out there there was no way I was going to let anyone catch me up!"  

Race 2 (Sun 8 laps)

Earlier in the day Smith won the second MSC race of the weekend after getting the better of early race leader Clark Proctor as the pair began lapping the tail-enders on the penultimate lap.

At that stage of the day the track was damp with the lightest of rain showers drifting across the circuit as the race progressed.  Off the rolling start the order was Proctor, Smith, Ross and Thornton but the later spun exiting Turn 7 allowing Class 2 pace-setter Michael Whatley to tuck in behind Ross and in front of Brett Willis, and Peter Dunn and category young gun Alan Dunkley to catch up.  

A lap later Dunkley had got by Dunn and Willis and he and Whatley quickly closed on Steve Ross.

Willis stayed in front of Dunn for one more lap before spinning exited the first turn and losing two places..

While Proctor and Smith battled for the lead, Whatley and Dunkley continued to dispute fourth and fifth with Dunkley finally getting past on the fifth lap.  

Whatley was back in front a lap later but the pair remained close and afterwards said that the changing track conditions actually played into their hands.  

"My car has got little or no grip on a good day anyway so it really wasn't that much different for me," joked Whatley. "  

"Yeah, we had an awesome race," agreed Dunkley. "I love it when the conditions are tricky 'coz I can really take advantage of them in the old car. Michael had more speed through Turn 1 and down the straight but I was hustling him like you wouldn't believe through the infield, and when I got past him it was after getting a better drive on the inside out of Turn 8 then getting a better run out of Turn 9."  

After Willis spun Peter Dunn inherited sixth place with Paul Zazryn seventh, Willis recovering to claim eighth, Ian Clements driving Lindsay O'Donnell's Begg FM5 ninth and Shayne Windelburn 10th.

Windelburn was on a charge, working his way from 14th place on the grid to ninth at the flag.

David Abbott had started from P9 on the grid but was a casualty of the slippery track conditions, grazing the armco exiting the downhill Turn 9 hairpin on the second lap.  

"I was behind Peter Sundberg," he explained. "Peter lost it in front of me and veered off to to the right very close to the armco on the outside of the circuit. I got round him but as I accelerated it was very similar to Ken's crash (at Manfeild 14 months ago). One wheel got grip, the other didn't and I was just a passenger. When I hit the wet grass on the inside the car seemed to accelerate and luckily I only grazed the armco, to the point where I was surprised when I stopped to see that the front left wheel was still attached to the car."  

Race 1 (Sat 8 laps)  

In the first MSC race of the weekend held in fine, dry conditions on Saturday afternoon Proctor just edged an aggressive Smith out on the run through the first turn but Smith found a way past on the third lap and started pulling away from Proctor as the latter struggled with a gear selection issue.  

That allowed defending series champion Ross - who tucked in behind Proctor and Smith at the start - to close on then also pass Proctor and cross the finish line just under a second behind Smith with  Proctor hanging on for third, Brett Willis fourth and the first of the visiting contingent of overseas drivers, Greg Thornton fifth.  

Early on in the eight lap race the interest behind Smith, Proctor and Ross was in the battle between fast-starting Australian visitor Paul Zazryn and Brett Willis.

Zazryn made the early running but Willis wore him down and went on to cross the line in fourth place.   

Also impressing was Greg Thornton.

After issues in qualifying which saw him start the race from P16 on the grid Thornton stormed through the field to cross the line in fifth place between Willis and Zazryn.  

Monaco-based compatriot Peter Dunn was the best of the Northern Hemisphere visitors in qualifying, setting the fourth quickest time in his March 73A/05, but it was actually Class A (for older cars) pace-setter Michael Whatley who got the best start and spent the early laps in sixth place ahead of Dunn and Mark Dwyer (Lola T400)

Dunn eventually got past, as later on did Thornton, but Dwyer ended up slipping back down the field after losing second gear and eventually pulling in with two laps to go.  

The MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series is organised and run with the support of sponsors MSC, NZ Express Transport, Bonney's Specialized Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants,  Pacifica, Avon Tyres and Exide. It continues at Hampton Downs at the second NZ Festival of Motor Racing - celebrating Denny Hulme next weekend.