Four wins out of five races in three different cars — not a bad afternoon’s work for Ken Smith, the guest of honour at this weekend’s NZ Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs.
This year’s festival celebrates the career of Smith and the 75-year-old took the opportunity to remind motorsport fans of his talent behind the wheel. Smith started in pole for the feature race of the afternoon, the Formula 5000, but Alan Dunkley, who’s almost 50 years younger than Smith, made a bold overtaking manoeuvre stick on the opening lap. Smith regained the lead on the very next lap and was never headed as he claimed yet another win to add to his incredible record.
Earlier in the day Smith won two races in the Historic Formula Ford and Formula Libre categories. “You just keep pumping on don’t you,” says Smith with typical modesty. “You keep battling.”
Surely, fatigue is a factor after such a hectic day.
“No she’ll be right,” says Smith. “I sip on water and juice during the day and that’s it. I don’t take any of those energy drinks and I don’t even have breakfast if I’m racing. It makes my guts feel full.”
“I haven’t had a minute to myself all day. Every time I move there’s someone else in my ear wanting to talk about some race back in 1956 or something. But it’s wonderful you know. It’s a great weekend and I’m out here doing what I love.”
Barry Miller, Kenny’s engineer, has known Smith since 1962 and nothing surprises him anymore.
“It’s not difficult for him. He seems to be able to hop in and out of any car and drive it well. When you’ve been doing it for that many years I suppose you learn a few things along the way and he just doesn’t slow down.”
One of the other highlights this afternoon was a new lap record set by young English driver Michael Lyons in the first Historic Formula 1 race ever held in New Zealand. Lyons, driving a Hesketh 308 led from start to finish and his new record of 1.27.637 — over two seconds quicker than German driver Christopher Mies in the Audi R8 LM8 during qualifying for the Hampton Downs 101 last October — is likely to stand for some time. Lyons also holds the lap record for the old Hampton Downs track.
“It’s been fun to drive the new extension here at Hampton Downs,” says Lyons. “These cars were built to be driven hard and it was good to give them a good run out. We’re up against Kenny Smith and the Formula 5000s in the Race of Champions at Taupo next week so we need to make sure the car is as good as it can be so we can put it up to Kenny.”
There was disappointment for the two New Zealand drivers in the Historic Formula 1 field with the BRMs of Peter and Aaron Burson both ruled out of this afternoon’s race due to mechanical problems during qualifying.
“We’re absolutely gutted,” says Aaron. “We’ve got a few spare parts in the garage at home so we’re hoping we might be able to fix at least one of the cars in time for tomorrow’s race.”
Kenny Smith and the rest of the F5000 drivers will be back on the track tomorrow at 10.45am and 3pm approximately while there’s another chance to see the Historic Formula 1 cars at 10am and 2.30pm approximately. Other categories at the NZFMR include Formula Junior, Historic Muscle & Saloon Cars, Historic Sports Sedans, Heritage Touring Cars, European Racing Cars and Central Muscle Cars.