Canadian Jay Esterer (McRae GM1) added his name to New Zealand motor racing’s revered Lady Wigram Trophy after dominating the opening round of the 2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at Christchurch’s Powerbuilt Tools Raceway on November 5-6, 2011.
Though he had to concede quicker lap times in qualifying to top local drivers Steve Ross (McRae GM1) and Ken Smith (Lola T332), the 48-year-old from Edmonton in western Canada won all three MSC F5000 series races, the two eight lap sprint ones on Saturday from Smith and Ross (Race 1) and Smith and fellow Lola T332 driver Roger Williams (the second) and the 15-lap Lady Wigram Trophy feature from Smith and top local driver Tony Richards (Lola T332).
As it turned out Smith didn’t make it to the grid to defend his 2010 Lady Wigram Trophy title win (his fourth in the 50+ year history of the race) when his crew led by race engineer Barry Miller ran out of time to replace an input shaft which failed as Smith returned to the pits after chasing Esterer home in the second race.
Having up until that point enjoyed a fairytale debut in the ex-Danny Ongais Lola T332 which Miller rebuilt for him, Smith said he felt more sorry for his crew chief, who continued to work on the car as Esterer and Ross fought out the Lady Wigram Trophy race on the track.
“It’s a big job in itself, “said Smith, “then when the spare we had didn’t fit we had to get in there with the grinder to make it fit. In the end we probably only needed another half an hour but, you know, that’s life, there’s no use getting all worked up about it. I’m more sorry for Barry (Miller) than I am for myself. I’ve had let-downs like this before so I can handle them, but, you know, Barry has spent the past 18 months restoring the car to the condition you see it today and I know he’s gutted that we couldn’t get it back on the track in time.”
Despite Smith’s absence Esterer had to work hard to keep fellow McRae driver Steve Ross at bay in the Lady Wigram Trophy feature, the Canadian grabbing the early advantage but Ross clawing it back in the latter stages to eventually cross the finish line just over half a second behind with Tony Richards (Lola T332) third a further 10 seconds back and series young gun Andrew Higgins (Lola T400) fourth.
Having come close three years ago Esterer said winning this year’s Lady Wigram Trophy race was extra sweet.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. The first time I did this event I thought I might be in with a chance but there was a downpour and I didn’ have any wet weather tyres with me. This year I made sure I had the right tyres (wet as well as dry) with me and it all worked out.”
Behind Esterer and Smith third was initially held by former Lady Wigram Trophy race winner Roger Williams but the Auckland man spun on the second lap. Former series champion Ian Clements also went off the track as he (successfully) managed to avoid Williams’ car, leaving Tony Richards in a lonely third between Ross and Andrew Higgins.
Having lost three places on the first lap Aucklander Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) was the big mover in the middle of the pack, spending the best part of the race catching then trying to find a way past Brett Willis (Lola T330) and Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) to eventually cross the finish line back in fifth place.
“I just put my head day and picked them off one by one and I’m very, very happy, ” he said. “A good way to finish the weekend.”
Rotorua man Willis continued to claim sixth place in front of Blenheim driver Russell Greer (Lola T332) but Gibb pulled off the track with just two laps to go. Local man Stan Redmond (Lola T332) and Aaron Burson’s father Peter (McRae GM1) also retired leaving Aucklander John MacKinlay (March 73 1/A) eighth and series newcomers David Arrowsmith (first Class A category driver home in his Lotus 70) and David Banks (Talon MR1) ninth and tenth respectively.
Banks was particularly happy with his debut weekend in the MSC category.
“I had a great time,” he said, “It was fantastic. Dicing with David like that in the end was unbelievable.”
Race 2 (8 laps)
The weekend’s second race was another Esterer benefit, the Canadian making a decisive dive under poleman Ross and fellow front row starter Smith into the first corner and dictating the pace from that point.
Ross ran second early on only to spin to avoid Esterer as the pair braked for the final corner. That left Smith second from Richards, Williams, Gibb, Aaron Burson and Russell Greer with Ross re-joining the race after most of the field had filed by. Having missed qualifying and Saturday’s first weekend race with an electrical problem, series young gun Andrew Higgins made up several places from a back row start only to follow Ross’ example and spin to avoid a car he was trying to pass, in his case Russell Greer’s Lola T332.
Also spinning early on were Tony Richards (Lola T332) and John MacKinlay (March 73 1/A) , the former able to continue to eventually cross the finish line in 11th place, the latter forced to sit and watch the rest of the race from the sidelines with his March 73 1/A stranded on the inside of the track between the hairpin and the first in-field right-hander.
Also in the wars were visiting British driver Greg Thornton (Chevron B24), who pitted with a carburettor problem, and local man Stan Redmond (Lola T332) who managed to complete five of the eight laps before being forced to pit with what he intiially thought was simply a puncture but which also turned out to be a loose right rear wheel.
Behind Esterer, Smith and Roger Williams, Sefton Gibb circulated in fourth place with Aaron Burson filling his mirrors then a gap back to Ian Clements, Russell Greer, Brett Willis and Peter Burson. However two laps after spinning at the sweeper Ross had made up two places and by the time the last lap board was put out he had made up a third, crossing the finish line a lap later in sixth, almost two seconds ahead of seventh placed Ian Clements, and less than half a second behind fifth placed Aaron Burson.
Completing the field were Peter Burson, David Banks and Dave Arrowsmith with all but Smith’s car returning to the pits under their own steam. Though he set the quickest race lap – 1.19.429 – and crossed the finish line just 0.424 of a second behind race winner Esterer, Smith only got as far as the hairpin on the slow down lap before his car’s input shaft cried enough.
Race 1 (8 laps)
Esterer’s winning run began in the weekend’s first race when he overtook poleman Steve Ross as the pair crossed the start-finish line to start the second lap then resisted constant pressure from Ken Smith to take the chequered flag seven laps later.
Ross qualified quickest and led the 17-strong field off the first of what turned out to be two rolling starts only to spin and let Esterer and Smith past. Though Ross was able to continue the race was immediately red flagged after Melbourne-based expat Chris Lambden (McRae GM1) ran over the back of Aucklander Aaron Burson’s similar car as the field scrambled to miss Ross and his spinning McRae.
Like Ross, Burson was able to continue, but Lambden’s car suffered left hand suspension damage and returned to the pits on the back of a salvage truck.
Once Esterer was in front after the re-start Smith was never more than two or three car lengths behind in second, with Ross third several car lengths back, Tony Richards a similar distance back in fourth and Smith’s fellow former Lady William trophy winner Roger Williams fifth.
Behind Williams and fellow Lola drivers Sefton Gibb (T332), Brett Willis (T330) and Russell Greer (T332), there was a race-long scrap for ninth place which involved four cars, Stan Redmond’s Lola T332, visiting British driver Greg Thornton’s Chevron B24, Aaron Burson’s McRae GM1 and former MSC series champion Ian Clements’ Lola T332, the nod eventually going to Burson after he and Clements managed to get round Redmond on the last lap.
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, Smith & Davies, Avon Tyres and Exide.
The series continues in the North Island next weekend with another headlining slot, this time at the 40th annual MG Classic meeting at Manfield.
2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series
1. Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 1:18.637
2. Ken Smith (Lola T332) 1:19.015
3. Jay Esterer (McRae GM1) 1:19.156
4. Tony Richards (Lola T332) 1:19.316
5. Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) 1:20.861
6. Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) 1:21.067
7. Ian Clements (Lola T332) 1:21.763
8. Chris Lambden (McRae GM1) 1:22.285
9. Brett Willis (Lola T330) 1:22.501
10. Stan Redmond (Lola T332) 1:22.504
11. Roger Williams (Lola T332) 1:22.799
12. Russell Greer (Lola T332) 1:23.186
13. Gregory Thornton (Chevron B24) 1:23.747
14. John MacKinlay (March 73 1/A1:24.881
15. Peter Burson (McRae GM1) 1:25.472
16. Dave Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) 1:28.023
17. David Banks (Talon MR1) 1:31.014
Race 1 (8 laps)
1. Jay Esterer 10:39.859
2. Ken Smith 10:40.336
3. Steve Ross 10:44.030
4. Tony Richards 10:48.100
5. Roger Williams 10:52.813
6. Sefton Gibb 11:03.894
7. Brett Willis 11:06.899
8. Russell Greer 11:08.621
9. Aaron Burson 11:20.068
10. Ian Clements 11:20.536
11. Stanley Redmond 11:21.233
12. Gregory Thornton 11:22.579
13. John MacKinlay 11:29.250
14. Peter Burson 12:04.397
15.Dave Arrowsmith + 1 Lap
16. David Banks + 1 lap
Fastest lap: Jay Esterer 1.19.174
Race 2 (8 laps)
1. Jay Esterer 10:46.362
2. Ken Smith 10:46.786
3. Roger Williams 10:52.373
4. Sefton Gibb 11:05.463
5. Aaron Burson 11:05.870
6. Steve Ross 11:06.129
7. Ian Clements 11:07.983
8. Brett Willis 11:17.743
9. Russell Greer 11:17.758
10. Andrew Higgins 11:29.252
11. Tony Richards 11:44.276
12. Peter Burson 11:50.789
13. David Banks 12:07.866
14. Dave Arrowsmith +1 lap
dnf: Stan Redmond John MacKinlay Greg Thornton
Fastest lap Ken Smith 1:19.429
Lady Wigram Trophy Race (15 laps)
1. Jay Esterer 20:10.366
2. Steve Ross 20:11.025
3. Tony Richards 20:21.446
4. Andrew Higgins 20:37.488
5. Aaron Burson 20:46.364
6. Brett Willis 20:47.798
7. Russell Greer 21:02.668
8. John MacKinlay 20:18.956 1 Lap
9. Dave Arrowsmith +1 lap
10. David Banks +1 lap
DNF Sefton Gibb, Stan Redmond, Peter Burson, Roger Williams, Ian Clements
Fastest lap. Jay Esterer 1.19.190
2010/11 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series – Calendar
Rnd 1: Nov 05/06 2011 Wigram Revival meeting, Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 2: Nov 12-13 2011 MG Classic Manfeild Feilding
Rnd 3: Jan 21-22 2012 NZ Festival of Motor Racing – BMW meeting x 1 Hampton Downs Auckland
Rnd 4: Jan 28-29 2012 NZ Festival of Motor Racing – BMW meeting x 2 Hampton Downs Auckland
Rnd 5: Feb 04/05 2012 Skope Classic meeting Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 6: March 09-11 2012 Phillip Island Classic meeting Phillip Island Victoria Australia
[Source: NZ F5000; photo credit: Fast Company/Alex Mitchell]