SMITH RELISHES PUKEKOHE F5000 RETURN

 Smith will be one of eight regulars from the popular MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series who will participate in three demonstration runs - one per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday - in their classic '70s era stock block V8-powered wings-and-slicks single seaters.  

In their heyday the 5.0 litre Chevrolet V8-powered Formula 5000 single seaters were as quick as Formula 1 cars with race runner-up, Australian Frank Matich,  setting a fastest lap of 56.7 seconds round the 2.8km circuit (when it ran without chicanes) in his McLaren M10B in 1971 and Graeme Lawrence setting a final benchmark of 61.4 seconds in 1976 with two chicanes in place.  

That was the year two separate series - the Peter Stuyvesant one here and the Rothmans International Series across the Tasman - replaced the trans-Tasman 'Tasman' series and it is a year Ken Smith remembers very well.  

"Too right," he says. "That was the first year I won the Grand Prix and it was the first year (since the New Zealand International Grand Prix was first run on a converted runway circuit at Ardmore Airport in 1954) it  was won by a resident driver."  

Smith joined the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series in 2007 and has since won the MSC title three times. For the first four years he drove a Lola T430, but for the past three he has raced a Lola T332 which he co-owns with long-time crew members Barry Miller and Phil Richardson.  

Though not the same car he used to win the 1976 New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe (that car still exists and is in active use by Australian driver Andrew Robson) Smith's 'new' car has been re-sprayed the same bright red and carries the same La Valise Travel, K-Road signage as the original did 37 years ago.  

Joining Smith in the 10 minute (Friday and Saturday) and 15 minute (Sunday) demonstration runs at the circuit are this season's third place-getter Clark Proctor (March 73A), father-and-son Peter and Aaron Burson (McRae GM1s), Andrew Higgins (Lola T400), Tim Rush (McLaren M22), Warwick Mortimer (Surtees TS5) and Alan Dunkley (Lola T140).  

Though the runs are strictly for demonstration purposes only Smith believes that, with the changes to the track to accommodate the V8 Supercars the quickest possible time could be very similar to the one compatriot Graeme Lawrence set when the front and back straight chicanes were in use in 1976. 

With it's new right-left-right complex of corners on the back straight, and the tighter confines of the now concrete barrier-lined corner entering the start-finish straight the track will certain not be as quick as it was when the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series last had a round there in 2008.  

That year class stalwart Roger Williams gave an indication of just how fast a Formula 5000 single-seater could lap the fast, flowing circuit  by easily bettering the track's original category lap record (the Matich one from 1971) in qualifying with a best lap time of 55.35 seconds, then got very close to Ken Smith's contemporary best in an F5000 car (55.20 set in a Matich A50 in 1993) in the first race, his quickest lap a 55.80.  

He and McRae GM1 driver Chris Hyde then went quicker again the day after, Williams setting a best lap of 54.59, Hyde 54.73, both in the second race.  

These times compare favourably with those of the V8 Supercars at the time with Ford driver Mark Winterbottom the last to claim pole position at the track (in 2007 before the ill-fated move to the Hamilton street circuit) with a time of 55.6704 and a typical race lap being in the mid 56s.  

However, ultimate times, says Smith, are only part of the ageless appeal of the F5000 category and the cars built for it.  

"There's just something about them and you see it wherever we go. People like the speed, obviously, how fast they go. But I think they also like the fact that they've got V8s in them, and  that unlike a lot of these modern cars the difference still comes down to the driver."  

Had the annual V8 Supercar round not returned to Pukekohe Smith agrees that the future of the venue would have been shaky at best. So he is pleased the necessary funding has been found to upgrade the track. 

 "Old tracks are like old buildings, " he says, "we've lost so many, Bay Park, Wigram, Waimate, we don't want to lose any more."  

The MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series is organized and run with the support of sponsors MSC, NZ Express Transport, Bonney's Specialized Bulk Transport, Mobil Lubricants,  Pacifica, Avon Tyres and Exid.