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NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2012 – Hampton Downs

Lola T400 F5000Series young gun Michael Lyons (Lola T400) completed an MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series clean sweep with another lights-to-flag victory in the final 15 lap feature at the second New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing – celebrating BMW Motorsport historic motor racing meeting at the Hampton Downs circuit south of Auckland on January 28-29, 2012.

Having qualified quickest and won all four MSC F5000 series races at the first NZ Festival meeting a week ago the just-turned-21-year-old did it again, claiming pole position in qualifying on Saturday morning before winning all three races contested, the first from series points leader Steve Ross and visiting Canadian driver Jay Esterer (both McRae GM1), the second from defending series champion Ken Smith (Lola T430) and Ross, and the third from Ross and Smith.

Though Smith got close before the Safety Car was deployed early in the second race, Lyons was literally in a class of his own again this weekend, proof the new outright track lap record, at 59.840, he set on the final lap of the second race.

Since the Hampton Downs circuit has been operating, the outright track record has been steadily whittled down by MSC F5000 series drivers, Ken Smith setting the original benchmark at 1.02.279 in 2010. Toyota Racing Series driver Mitch Evans reduced it to 1.01.846 soon after but both Michael Lyons (1.00.536) and Steve Ross (1.00.497) went under that at the first 2012 NZ Festival meeting last weekend and after first dipping below the magic one minute mark in qualifying on Saturday morning this weekend (59.869) Lyons completed the job in the weekend’s second MSC series race with his 59.846.

“There’s something about doing it in a car that’s 40 years old too,” said Lyons. “When you’ve got a bit of a streak going the pressure piles on and you’ve just got to put your head down and keep working away at it. But the flip side of that is that these things are just so much fun to drive. You know, five hundred horsepower, big fat tyres, they’re proper racing cars!”

The 15-lap final was held in warm, blustery conditions but came to a premature end when the red flags came out after Kiwi expat Chris Lambden (McRae GM1) and American visitor Eric Haga (Lola T140) tangled albeit without serious damage on the run up the start/finish straight.

Before that the race had run pretty much to script, Lyons getting the jump on fellow front-row starter Smith then Steve Ross – who had been relegated to third place on the grid when Smith set a quicker lap time in the morning race – following Lyons through on the inside into second.

Lyons then proceeded to pull out a five-to-six car advantage on Ross with Smith a frustrated third, Jay Esterer fourth and Mark Dwyer (Lola T400) fifth. Behind Dwyer, Roger Williams (Lola T332) led Brett Willis (Lola T330), Frank Lyons (Gurney-Eagle) and Greg Thornton (Chevron B24) with a gap back to another close-running multi-car freight train led by Russell Greer (Lola T332) from Stu Lush (McRae GM1), Chris Lambden, Shane Windelburn (Lola T400), Class A standout Alan Dunkley (Lola T140), David Abbott (Lola T430) and Dave Arrowsmith (Lotus 70).

That’s the way the order up front stayed until Jay Esterer got a run on Smith around the outside at Turn 1. Brett Willis was also on the move easing away from Frank Lyons as he set his sights on Roger Williams.

Willis then got past Williams on the seventh lap, about the same time as John MacKinlay found a way past Russell Greer.

Lola T192 Formula 5000
Lola T192 of Seb Coppola, President of the Formula 5000 Drivers Association which organizes the F5000 racing activities in the United States

The next big change was Smith launching a successful attack on Jay Esterer, who eventually retired with fuel feed problems, for third place. Roger Williams also slowed and headed for the pits at this stage leaving Willis chasing down Mark Dwyer for fourth and Frank Lyons in a lonely fifth.

The yellow flags then came out when Alan Dunkley beached his giant-killing Lola T140 in the gravel on the outside of the second turn and not long after the red flags were deployed to stop the race so that officials could tend to Lambden and Haga’s stranded cars. Because more than 75% of the projected race distance had been completed the results were declared, then afterwards amended when Brett Willis was deemed to have passed (subsequent to him getting past Williams) after the race was red flagged.

With Dunkley out the best of the Class A runners was David Arrowsmith in his Lotus 70 in 12th place, while with Harin de Silva’s Surtees TS8 breaking a suspension upright on the warm-up lap the best of the three-man American contingent was Seb Coppola (Lola T192) who crossed the finish line in 16th place.

Lotus 70 F5000
Lotus 70 of Class A winner David Arrowsmith

Both Coppola and de de Silva thoroughly enjoyed their debut drives in a series they have been hearing good things about for years.

“It was very enjoyable to be part of such a big grid,” said de Silva. “The level of noise you hear at the start with all these cars is quite incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so loud, even with ear plugs!”

Race 2 (8 laps Sunday morning)

This was the race in which Michael Lyons set his new outright track lap record – despite the majority of laps being run behind the Safety Car. Fortunately – as it did in the weekend’s first MSC F5000 series race on Saturday afternoon – it returned to the pits with one lap to go, allowing Lyons to put down the hammer, his 59.840 final lap 0.29 quicker even than his pole time from Saturday morning.

The young second-generation British driver got the jump on fellow front row starter Steve Ross off the line but this time it was Ken Smith who dived down the inside forcing Ross and fellow McRae GM1 driver Jay Esterer wide. As they sorted themselves out Mark Dwyer muscled his way into third place with Ross fourth, Esterer fifth and Roger Williams sixth.

Behind Williams, Brett Willis led Frank Lyons and John MacKinlay but Greg Thornton was soon past MacKinlay (March 73A) who in turn led Russell Greer (Lola T332), Chris Lambden (McRae GM1) and Class A standout Alan Dunkley.

Lola T400 of Michael Lyons
Lola T400 of Michael Lyons

The order then remained static until Stu Lush (McRae GM1) coasted down the start/finish race and parking his car at the side of the track after his car’s low oil pressure light went on and Warwick Mortimer pulled off the circuit a lap later with what turned out to be a gearbox problem.

It was Jay Esterer who brought the Safety Car out though, the Canadian running into the back of Steve Ross as the pair braked for the infield hairpin and ending up with his car prone in the gravel trap. That wasn’t the end of the incidents either, visiting American driver Eric Haga outbraking himself into the first turn and ending up stuck in the middle of the track soon after.

Fortunately he was able to re-start his car and get it out of the way before Lyons and co arrived at the end of their penultimate lap.

Jay Esterer (#59) and Steve Ross (#5) tangled in the second race of the weekend
Jay Esterer (#59 McRae GM1) and Steve Ross (#5 McRae GM1) tangled in the second race of the weekend

Race 1 (8 laps Saturday)

With qualifying postponed from Friday afternoon because of damp track conditions the first of two projected MSC F5000 series races on Saturday was canceled, and when Clark Proctor (March 73A) blew an engine on the second lap of the afternoon race all but one of the remaining laps were run behind the Safety Car, leaving fastest qualifier Michael Lyons to stroke to his fifth win in as many races since he arrived in New Zealand.

Behind him Steve Ross slotted into second place with Ken Smith close behind in third then a gap back to Mark Dwyer, Jay Esterer – back in the series after having to sit out the first round with fuel starvation problems – Clark Proctor (before his car’s engine blew), Roger Williams, Michael Lyon’s father Frank, Brett Willis, and Stu Lush.

Proctor’s prone car brought out the yellow flags then the Safety Car, however, and the order remained the same until Ken Smith dived into the pits to have a loose right-hand-side muffler re-moved. Smith re-joined the race but had to remain line astern at the back of the field until the track went green again on the last lap. When it did he didn’t waste any time, making it back up to 11th place by the time the chequered flag came out.

With Lyon’s fellow young gun Alan Dunkley under strict instructions to nurse home his giant-killing high-wing Lola T140 after a crack was discovered in its gearbox bell-housing after qualifying first Class A car home was the Lotus 70 of Christchurch driver David Arrowsmith.

The MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series continues February 4-5, 2012 at the annual Skope Classic meeting at Christchurch’s Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna Park.

V8 Supercar driver Greg Murphy at speed in Chris Lambden's McRae GM1 at Hampton Downs
V8 Supercar driver Greg Murphy at speed in Chris Lambden's McRae GM1 at Hampton Downs

2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series

1. Michael Lyons (Lola T400) 59.869
2. Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 1.00.500
3. Ken Smith (Lola T430) 1.00.698
4. Clark Proctor (March 73A) 1.00.822
5. Jay Esterer (McRae GM1) 1.01.887
6. Mark Dwyer (Lola T400) 1.01.991
7. Roger Williams (Lola T332) 1.02.132
8. Brett Willis (Lola T330) 1.02.571
9. Frank Lyons (Gurney Eagle) 1.03.011
10. Gregory Thornton (Chevron B24) 1.03.494
11. John MacKinlay (March 73A) 1.04.035
12. Stuart Lush (McRae GM1) 1.04.210
13. Russell Greer (Lola T332) 1.04.435
14. Shayne Windelburn (Lola T400) 1.04.594
15. Alan Dunkley (Lola T140) 1.04.893
16. David Abbott (Lola T430) 1.04.968
17. Chris Lambden (McRae GM1) 1.05.318
18. Alastair Russell (McRae GM1) 1.05.457
19. Harin de Silva (Surtees TS8) 1.05.502
20. Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) 1.05.703
21. David Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) 1.05.990
22. Scott Drnek (Lola T400) 1.06.403
23. Peter Burson (McRAe GM1) 1.06.556
24. David Banks (Talon MR1) 1.06.950
25. Tim Rush (McLaren M22) 1.08.577
26. John Bryant (Lola T140) 1.09.686
27. Seb Coppola (Lola T192) 1.10.230
28. Eric Haga (Lola T140) 1.11.633
29. Warwick Mortimer (Surtees TS5) 1.12.948
30. Judy Lyons (Lola T332) 1.31.248

Race 1 (8 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 11.46.662
2. Steve Ross +2.260
3. Jay Esterer +4.273
4. Mark Dwyer +6.200
5. Frank Lyons +8.414
6. Roger Williams +9.365
7. Brett Willis +10.639
8. Stuart Lush +11.775
9. Greg Thornton +14.018
10. Shayne Windelburn +14.780
11. Ken Smith +15.421
12. Russell Greer +15.845
13. John MacKinlay +16.128
14. Chris Lambden +16.680
15. David Abbott +18.776
16. David Arrowsmith +19.766
17. Alan Dunkley +20.424
18. Scott Drnek +20.731
19. Aaron Burson +22.205
20. David Banks +25.265
21. John Bryant +27.424
22. Warwick Mortimer +28.451
23. Tim Rush +29.673
24. Eric Haga +32.324
25. Judy Lyons +56,390
dnf Per Burson, Seb Coppola, Clark Proctor.
dns Alastair Russell, Harin de Silva, Michael Whatley

Race 2 (8 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 11.19.882
2. Ken Smith +2.164
3. Steve Ross +4.831
4. Mark Dwyer +4.970
5. Roger Williams +7.742
6. Frank Lyons +10.232
7. Brett Willis +10.540
8. Greg Thornton +11.918
9. John McKinlay +13.088
10. Russell Greer +15.607
11. Chris Lambden +16.071
12. Shayne Windelburn +16.437
13. David Abbott +18.517
14. Alan Dunkley +18.675
15. David Arrowsmith +19.757
16. Harin de Silva +23.191
17. John Bryant +26.656
18. David Banks +27.749
19. Tim Rush +28.216
20. Seb Coppola +29.749
21. Aaron Burson +39.925
22. Judy Lyons +56.319
dnf Eric Haga, Jay Esterer, Warwick Mortimer, Stu Lush.

Race 3 (15 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 12.15.732
2. Steve Ross +12.22.286
3. Ken Smith 12.29.007
4. Mark Dwyer 12.42.622
5. Frank Lyons 12.55.932
6. Greg Thornton 12.56.728
7. John MacKinlay 13.14.136
8. Shayne Windelburn 13.15.744
9. Russell Greer 13.17.400
10. David Abbott 13.18.798
11. Aaron Burson 12.17.398
12. David Arrowsmith 12.21.465
13. Chris Lambden 12.22.367
14. Peter Burson 12.42.772
15. Tim Rush 12.47.464
16. Seb Coppola 13.09.167
17. John Bryant 13.20.160
18. Warwick Mortimer 12.34.752
dnf Jay Esterer, Alan Dunkley, Roger Williams, David Banks, Eric Haga, Stuart Lush , Judy Lyons, Harin de Silva, Scott Drnek. DQ Brett Willis

NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2011 / 2012 – Race 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 Association; photo credit: Fast Company/Alex Mitchell]