Lady Wigram Trophy Race

Two years ago New Zealand motor racing veteran Ken Smith (Lola T430) made it three Lady Wigram Trophy race wins in three decades. In doing so he joined an elite group of drivers - Peter Whitehead, Jim Clark and Craig Baird - who had won the prestigious New Zealand motor racing trophy three times.

On Sunday at the big Christchurch Casino Wigram Revival Meeting at Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna Park, the 69-year-old from Auckland went one better, equalling fellow New Zealand motor racing legend Graham McRae's record of four Lady Wigram trophy wins.

Coincidentally, McRae's also came in the V8-engined Formula 5000 single-seater racing cars that now again contest the Lady Wigram Trophy each year, the first three in a row in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and the fourth in 1975.

Smith's run took a little longer to put together, the first coming in 1976, the second in 1990, the third in 2009 and now the fourth in the 2010/11 season.

"It's certainly good, " the defending MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series champion said as he enjoyed centre stage on the podium after the 15 lap Lady Wigram Trophy feature race at the gala Christchurch Casino Wigram Revival Meeting. "Not just for me either. My mechanic here, Barry Miller, has been with me for three of the four years we've won it now from way back in the early 70s. It's mighty."

After being pipped at the post for the Lady Wigram Trophy by fellow MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series driver Roger Williams last season, Smith was in a determined mood heading into this season's meeting, topping the time sheets in qualifying on Saturday morning then winning the first race of the weekend from Dunedin's Steve Ross (McRae GM1) and Christchurch's Tony Richards (Lola T332), and the second - on Sunday morning - from Richards and Auckland driver Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) .

In the Lady Wigram Trophy race over 15 laps Smith and fellow front row starter Steve Ross were neck and neck down the start/finish straight but Ross edged ahead as the pair accelerated out of the first turn.

Smith was back in front as the pair exited the infield complex, however, then edged away to a healthy lead until the Safety Car came out while Reg Cook's Lola T400 was towed from the gravel trap at the end of the start/finish straight.

The cars remained behind the Safety Car for three laps until with just two to go racing resumed.

That bunched the 13 strong field up but Smith never looked under threat, punching the air as he crossed the finish line two laps later with a half a second buffer on Ross then local men Tony Richards and Ian Clements and Sefton Gibb (all Lola T332).

To complete his weekend, Smith also set a new class lap record round the Powerbuilt Tools venue's 3.330km Grand Prix circuit, his 1.19.232 bettering the existing record set by 2008/09 MSC series champion Chris Hyde in a McRae GM1.

Race 2 (8 laps)
Steve Ross got his time in the sun in the second MSC series race of the weekend on Sunday morning, matching fellow front row starter Smith gear for gear off the rolling start then getting a better run out of the first turn to lead for six of the eight laps.

However, as he was braking for the circuit's hairpin corner something triggered his car's on-board fire extinguisher system, filling the cockpit and the surprised driver's helmet with pressurized foam.

Fortunately the corner is the track's slowest, meaning Ross was not at risk of running off the track at speed, but his race was effectively run, leaving Smith - who had got alongside but not quite past earlier on - to stroke it home for what turned out to be the second of his three victories over the weekend, this time from Tony Richards and a hard-charging Aaron Burson.

After a strong but comparatively lonely run in the first race Burson found himself chasing Sefton Gibb for the first two laps of the second race until Gibb's car kicked sideways exciting the infield left-hander opposite the pits.

Seizing the opportunity Burson not only pounced, he also claimed a small advantage as Gibb gathered his Lola T332 together.

"It was actually a bit of a shame, " Gibb admitted afterwards."The car was really coming on in the latter stages of the race and if I hadn't had that half spin I think I would been able to stay in front of Aaron. But good on him, he's a fierce competitor, he took the opportunity to get past me when I had a half spin and, to be fair I enjoyed the rest of the race trying to catch him again. "

Behind the front running four, young Auckland driver Andrew Higgins (Lola T400) enjoyed another strong run to claim fifth place from Brett Willis (Lola T330), Russell Greer (Lola T332) and the second F5000 original in the MSC series after Ken Smith, Reg Cook, (Lola T400).

Having spent the past three months working 10 and more hour days rebuilding the Glenn and Victoria Richards-owned ex Eppie Weitzes T400 so that it would be ready in time for the opening round of the MSC series the New Zealand series second 'original,' Reg Cook, was initially happy just to have the rebuild finished before the Lady Wigram Trophy meeting.

But after experiencing first hand just how quick and committed his fellow MSC series drivers are, the 63-year-old was heading home with a worklist as long as the one he originally started with.

"For a start," he deadpanned, "I think we need at least another 100 horsepower. But we've also got some work to do on the front end. The back end is fine, but the front doesn't turn in as well as the other cars in the field do."

Otherwise?

"It's been a challenge, but I'm glad I came back."

MSC series stalwart Stan Redmond ran with Willis, Cook and Greer early on but headed to the pits to check everything was OK with his car after a spin. That left Greer to follow home Willis with Cook next then David Abbott, Tony Roberts and Peter Burson.

Race 1 (Saturday)

As it turned out Smith was also the quickest man on the track on Saturday, claiming pole position from Ross, Richards and Ian Clements in qualifying in the morning then getting the best of the start-delayed first eight lap race of the meeting and season to head home Ross by just under a second and Richards by just over 13 seconds.

That was after the first start was abandoned when former series champ Ian Clements slid off the track on the second warm-up lap, and the 12-strong field was held on the start/finish straight while the Christchurch man's damaged car was recovered.

Fellow Christchurch driver David Abbot's Lola T430 and Napier driver Sefton Gibb also failed to complete the warm-up procedure, the former when his car's input shaft failed, the latter with a fuel pump problem.

With another two warm-up laps before the race proper started Smith was concerned that he might not have enough fuel in his car's tank to complete the eight laps, but after pulling out a buffer early on he eased off just enough to make sure he got to the finish line.

"I think if I had kept revving the engine out it might have been a bit touch and go, so I did the extra warm up laps real slow then dropped five or six hundred off the revs half way through and that was enough to get us home," he said.

Despite that Smith still set the fastest race lap - a 1.19.325 - with Ross - at 1.19.537 - the only other driver under the 1 minute 20 mark.

Together the pair pulled away from second row starter Tony Richards and Aaron Burson, the latter pair quick over the first couple of laps but not quite able to match the pace being set by Smith and Ross up front.

Best of the series newcomers early on was former saloon car ace Peter Sundberg (Lola T332), the Aucklander qualifying ninth behind his car's former New Zealand owner Stan Redmond but quickly working his way up to fifth in his MSC series debut after hunting down and passing Brett Willis mid-race.

Just as he started to edge away from Willis, however, Sundberg pulled off the circuit with engine issues, leaving another Auckland driver, Andrew Higgins to claim fifth and best series newcomer kudos.

Higgins, a protégé of race winner Smith's, was forced to start the race from the back row of the grid after a problem with his car's fuel injection pump meant he missed the qualifying session but he made up five places on the first lap and tucked in behind Sundberg as the former made his own way up through the field.

By the time Sundberg pulled off the track Higgins had also passed Brett Willis meaning that when the chequered flag came out he was in fifth place, a bonus, he reckoned considering the frantic work that went on earlier in the day.

"To be honest, " he said, "I was just happy to get to do eight laps in the car and be still going at the end. We thought we had fixed the problem the first time it happened but then it did it again which meant we missed qualifying but once we got out on the track it seemed to be going alright so I just pushed on and we ended up fifth which was good."

The weekend's meeting in Christchurch was the first of five over which the 2010/11 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series will be contested this season. The second and third are at the big Festival of New Zealand Motor Racing - Chris Amon meetings over consecutive weekends at Auckland's Hampton Downs circuit in January, the fourth is back at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna Park, this time in February as the headline act at the annual Skope Classic meeting, with the final hosted by the Southland Sports Car Club at its Evolution Motorsport Classic Speedfest meeting a fortnight later.

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, Pacifica, Smith & Davies, Avon Tyres and Exide.