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Gurney-Eagle FA74 driven by Michael Lyons
Gurney-Eagle FA74 driven by Michael Lyons

NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival 2014 – Skope Classic

It was a case of Michael Lyons’ Gurney-Eagle FA74 winning the battles but the Lola T400 of Andy Higgins won the war at the final round of the 2013/14 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series, held February 1-2 at Mike Pero Motorsport Park (nee Ruapuna) in Christchurch, New Zealand.

By winning the final Mobil 1-backed 12-lap MSC class feature race at the annual Skope Classic historic motor racing meeting 23-year-old British visitor Lyons completed a rare MSC series clean-sweep.

He won all five MSC series races and lowered his own outright track lap record at the two New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing meetings at Hampton Downs in the North Island in January then all three – and on his way twice lowering the F5000 category lap record – at Mike Pero Motorsport Park.

Because he contested all four rounds (to Lyons’ three) of the 2013/14 MSC series Aucklander Higgins was always going to have an advantage as far as the overall series title was concerned. But it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing for Lyons – who completed his eight-race winning streak behind the wheel of his father’s Gurney-Eagle FA74 after blowing the engine of his own Lola T400 in practice in Christchurch on Friday.

Not that it seemed to affect him.

On Saturday Lyons lapped under Jay Esterer’s existing category lap record in qualifying, just over a second quicker than defending series champion Steve Ross (McRae GM1), then went on to win the first MSC race of the weekend from Ross, Higgins, Tony Richards (Lola T332) and Russell Greer (Lola T332).

As he did in both subsequent races, fast starter Ross got the jump on Lyons off the line but each time Lyons reeled the Dunedin man in and used what would become his trademark pass (at the right hand Carousel corner) for a lead it only once looked like he would relinquish.

Lola T400 of Andrew Higgins leads Russell Greer's Lola T332
Lola T400 of Andrew Higgins leads Russell Greer’s Lola T332

That was in the Saturday race when the Safety Car was dispatched while Dave Arrowsmith’s prone Lotus 70 was being moved and the track did not go green again until the final lap.

Aware of how quick on the draw Steve Ross is Lyons put in a flier on that lap and was rewarded with a new category lap record…..which he promptly lowered again in the second eight lap race of the weekend on Sunday morning.!

That race followed a similar pattern to Saturday’s with Ross grabbing the early initiative only to have Lyons reel him in.

This time Lyons put in his lap record-breaking time on the second lap, passing then pulling away to win by just over 11 seconds from Ross with Andy Higgins again third and – this time – Russell Greer fourth.

Tony Richards had been running third but late in the race he clipped his brother Glenn’s Lola T400 as he was lapping it, putting both cars out of the race.

That just left the feature final, with the status quo remaining, despite the race finishing behind the Safety Car after Andy Higgins’ Lola shed its left rear wheel with three laps to go.

McRae GM1 of Aaron Burson
McRae GM1 of Aaron Burson

“It was actually the wheel centre that broke,”he explained afterwards.”I had just turned into the Carousel when there was this big bang. Better there I suppose than at the end of the main straight, but it was disappointing all the same because we’ve been really consistent this season and that’s the only race we haven’t finished.”

Fortunately for the 32-year-old from Auckland the car sustained no other damage and he still had enough of a points buffer to claim the 2013/14 MSC series title.

It’s the first major series victory for second-generation racer Higgins and one he says he couldn’t have even contemplated without the help and support of his father, historic single-seater and Porsche aficionado Paul Higgins, and their race engineer, Nigel Bunny. Not to mention the mentoring, support and friendship he has received over the years from local racing great Ken Smith.

Gurney-Eagle FA74 driven by Michael Lyons
Gurney-Eagle FA74 driven by Michael Lyons

With Higgins out of the final, third place went to class stalwart Russell Greer and it was no surprise when the Blenheim man was presented with the new Stan Redmond Memorial trophy for ‘The Most Spirited Drive’ by Redmond’s former crew chief and engine man Steve Weeber

“Stan was a great character and any way we can honour him the better,” said Greer, who attributes a new-found ‘spring in his race step’ to help with his race effort from Christchurch-based category specialist John Crawford and his Motorsport Solutions operation.

“That’s my best result by a long shot,” he said afterwards.”I’ve had a few fourths before but never a podium. I didn’t even know where it was until this weekend and it’s all down to John and his boys. Up until now I’ve been looking after the car and trying to drive it myself but John’s attitude is, ‘we’ll look after the car, you concentrate of the driving and it’s paying dividends as you can see.”

Lotus 70 of Dave Arrowsmith
Lotus 70 of Dave Arrowsmith

Behind Greer came Tony Richards, who put in a swashbuckling drive in his repaired car to get from P10 on the grid to fourth at the flag, then Aaron Burson, Class A standout Dave Arrowsmith and Ian Clements, before a gap back to David Banks (who had a spin while dicing with Ian Clements but was able to continue unscathed), Tim Rush in the one-of-a-kind McLaren M22, Peter Burson (McRae GM1) and Glenn Richards (Lola T400) with race winner Michael Lyons’ father Frank bracketing the field after a harmless spin of his own in the Lola T430 loaned to him by local man David Abbott.

With the MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series over for another season it now time for British visitors like the Lyons family return home and prepare for the 2014 northern hemisphere racing season.

Russell Greer's Lola T332 leads McRae GM1 of Aaron Burson
Russell Greer’s Lola T332 leads McRae GM1 of Aaron Burson

But not before Michael and Frank join Kiwi F5000 counterparts Andre and Warwick Mortimer in a BMW M3 at the annual Liqui-Moly 12 Hour endurance race at Bathurst in Australia next weekend.

“We’re planning it as a real Dads’ n Lads affair, “said Michael. “It should be a lot of fun.”

The MSC NZ 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, Webdesign and Exide.

Paul Higgins, Andy Higgins and Nigel Bunny
Paul Higgins, Andy Higgins and Nigel Bunny

2013/14 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series – Skope Classic Results

1. Michael Lyons (Gurney-Eagle FA74) 01:17.430
2. Steve Ross (McRae GM1) 01:18.593
3. Tony Richards (Lola T332) 01:19.376
4. Andrew Higgins (Lola T400) 01:19.886
5. Russell Greer (Lola T332) 01:21.250
6. Ian Clements (Lola T332) 01:21.959
7. David Banks (Talon MR1) 01:22.048
8. Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) 01:22.734
9. Dave Arrowsmith (Lotus 70) 01:22.744
10. Glenn Richards (Lola T400) 01:23.607
11. Peter Burson (McRae GM1) 01:24.037
12. Frank Lyons (Lola T430) 01:24.303
13. Tim Rush (McLaren M22) 01:25.330
14. Judy Lyons (Lola T332) 02:13.701

Race 1 (8 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 11:44.076
2. Steve Ross +02.978
3. Andrew Higgins +05.899
4. Tony Richards +07.836
5. Russell Greer +08.650
6. Aaron Burson +10.336
7. David Banks +10.629
8. Ian Clements +11.132
9. Frank Lyons +15.609
10. Glenn Richards +16.245
11. Tim Rush +16.973
12. Peter Burson +17.536
DNF. Dave Arrowsmith, Judy Lyons
Fastest lap (and new class lap record) Michael Lyons (Gurney-Eagle FA74) 01:17.723

Race 2 (8 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 10:29.180
2. Steve Ross +11.456
3. Andrew Higgins +22.766
4. Russell Greer +32.891
5. Dave Arrowsmith +34.293
6. Aaron Burson +36.654
7. David Banks +37.176
8. Ian Clements +38.569
9. Tim Rush +50.164
10. Peter Burson +58.806
11. Judy Lyons +2 laps
DNF. Tony Richards, Glenn Richards
Fastest lap (and new class lap record) Michael Lyons (Gurney-Eagle FA74) 01:17.588

Race 3 (15 laps)
1. Michael Lyons 17:03.003
2. Steve Ross +01.880
3. Russell Greer +02.543
4. Tony Richards +03.121
5. Aaron Burson +03.678
6. Dave Arrowsmith +04.213
7. Ian Clements +05.364
8. David Banks +34.965
9. Tim Rush +35.283
10. Peter Burson +40.002
11. Glenn Richards +42.722
12. Frank Lyons +1 lap
DNF. Andrew Higgins, Judy Lyons
Fastest lap: Michael Lyons (Gurney-Eagle FA74) 01:18.475

Provisional final series placings
1. Andy Higgins
2. Michael Lyons
3. Aaron Burson

New Zealand Formula 5000 Association – 2013/14 Race Calendar

Rnd 1: Nov 8-10 2013 ‘The Sound’ MG Classic Manfeild Feilding
Rnd 2: Jan 17-19 2014 NZFMR Ferrari Festival – 1 Hampton Downs Nth Waikato
Rnd 3: Jan 24-26 2014 NZFMR Ferrari Festival – 2 Hampton Downs Nth Waikato
Rnd 4: Feb 01-02 2014 Skope Classic Mike Pero Motorsport Park (Ruapuna) Christchurch

2013/14 Formula 5000 Australia Cup Series (invitational rounds)
Rnd 1: Aug 31-Sept 01 2013 Muscle Car Masters meeting Sydney Motorsport Park Sydney
Rnd 2: Sept 13-15 2013 Sandown 500 meeting (V8 Supercars) Sandown Melbourne
Rnd 3: Nov 08-10 2013 Sandown Historics meeting Sandown Melbourne
Rnd 4: March 07-09 2014 Phillip Island Classic meeting Phillip Island Melbourne

[Source: New Zealand Formula 5000 Association]