Way back in 1986, Donn White of Tauranga started a series for BMC 4 cylinder cars, raced over four North Island circuits – Taupo, Manfeild, Pukekohe and the now defunct, Bay Park, in Tauranga.
The series gradually gained in popularity, attracting Minis, MG Midgets, MGBs and the late Jim Chrystall’s Wolseley 1500 (albeit with a larger engine), and had a format of two points races per meeting. Traditionally, the first race was a scratch race – naturally enough, fought out by the faster cars; the second was a handicap, but regardless of the results, the overall series was normally won by one of the quicker cars.
Around 1994, TACCOC had a series for Classic British Sports & GTs, (the Gasoline Alley series) with fairly low key rules and a bonus point system which was biased towards old, wire wheeled, wooden framed, British Racing Green, non trailered cars, with less than oil tight engines and not running on Japanese tyres or spark plugs… The series ran for a couple of years but was then dropped when there was a change of TACCOC club policy.
At the end of the 1995/96 season after an an unfortunate disagreement regarding the series leader running a different car at the last round, and a formal complaint by just one driver, leading to threatened legal action, the BMC series was left without a convenor, as Donn White quite rightly, decided that the hassle and attitude caused by this, wasn’t what the sport was all about. What was left was a small group of drivers with no convenor. I was asked to take over the series by Derek Prior, a former MGCC (Auckland) President, as we had worked well together running sprints and hillclimbs in the past. Not knowing what I was letting myself in for, I agreed.
So, in 1996, the series restarted, under a different team. Derek Prior, Kerry Bowman and myself, Ray Green, with some support from Paul Reynolds as driver’s rep.
A NEW BEGINNING
A quick investigation showed that the series was less than viable with the number of drivers left (less than 10!), so an equally quick decision was made to move into a new era. The first move was to expand the catchment to British Leyland cars, and the 4 cylinder rule was scrapped which then let in Jaguars, Austin Healeys, Rovers etc. and TR6, TR7 V8, MGB V8.
The series ran like this for just one year, and I was more than a bit frustrated that my own British GT car (Marcos) had no series in which it could run, as by this time, the Gasoline Alley Series had been dropped by TACCOC. The idea of the fastest car always winning in a classic event for a mixed bag of cars, didn’t seem consistent with Classic racing philosophy. Well, not mine anyway… The format was therefore changed to two handicap races, with the idea that any car would then stand a chance of winning. The aforementioned complainant and objector to the BMC series car swap, was an equal points winner, and when the new format was announced, stalked off in high dudgeon, clutching the BMC trophy, muttering about it now being no more than a lottery… We didn’t see the trophy again for several years.
With the permission of Chris Watson, the leading light behind the TACCOC series at the time, and now a leading light in the HRC (Historic Racing Club and initial co-developer of Hampton Downs), we were able to absorb the other British Sports and GT cars, so for the 1997/8 season, Marcos, Morgan, Lotus, TVR, Reliant etc., were added to the list of potential runners – and I had somewhere to race.
Series rules were drawn up in detail, with considerable communications with the governing body – Motorsport New Zealand (or MANZ as it was back then), with the original intention to become a Sanctioned Series – an idea we eventually rejected. However, it did mean a strong set of robust rules that only needing tweaking now and again when issues arose, such as how to deal with the points for handicap races that were adversely affected by a chequered flag dropped a lap early or safety car interventions.
THE NEW LOOK
With the previous thin fields now expanded, the series started to define the character for which it is now so well known. My own talents were used to work hard on the handicapping methods and an Excel based system to run it, as this is an area which was to become a feature of the series. Handicapping is always a gamble, but there are two distinct philosophies. The first is that the fastest cars start at the back of the field but are given enough of a delay to make a race of it, as they power to the front of the field. The second philosophy is that the aim is to have all cars across the line at the same time, so that the winner could come from anywhere.
We opted for the second philosophy, which effectively means that the winner is never really known in advance, but all drivers have a theoretically equal chance of taking the chequered flag. In truth, those slow cars at the front usually have a better chance as it is much easier to hold position than gain a place, especially when cars are fairly evenly matched for lap times, but some handle well, others accelerate or brake well.
The occasional yellow flag incidents can also throw the results out as if the flag is shown at the only overtaking point on a circuit, then the overtaking driver is delayed for a full lap.
With that in mind, when the computer calculated handicaps are worked out, a certain amount of massaging is essential as the starter can only safely work in blocks of 5 seconds, which just about gives drivers time to move forward to the start line, and then accept a three, two, one, countdown.
Just to try and maintain a reasonably safe environment for the slightly slower cars, it was decided early on that it would be better if faster cars went and raced with the big boys. There were one or two amateurs with V8 and V12 powered cars, such as Harley Norager (MGB V8) and Mark Parsons (TR7 V8), Andy Turpin (XJS Jaguar) running on smaller budgets, yet running road registered cars who elected to run with us, but then had to suffer a speed bar at each circuit, to slow them down a bit.
The speed bar at the 2.8km Pukekohe circuit was originally set at 1:12. The time was arrived at by studying the fastest times of our own drivers. Any driver going faster was then subjected to a stop/go penalty – provided the timekeepers were able to pick it up and the message communicated to the Clerk of the Course.
The first time this actually happened was at Manfeild, when Harley Norager scorched through from the back of the grid, and was penalised, much to the chagrin of the commentator, who wasn’t aware of the ruling! When Harley roared out again in hot pursuit, the large and enthusiastic crowd were cheering him on, willing him to get to the front. He didn’t quite manage it, as there was such a massive traffic jam on the last lap with cars three and four abreast all over the circuit!
This episode confirmed that we had a winning formula and we never changed it until the start of the 2004/2005 season, which heralded yet another new structure. The bar was lowered to 1:10 at Pukekohe when too many cars were breaking out, and black flagging all of them was getting to be too difficult.
TWO CLASSES AND ANOTHER STEP FORWARD
As the series grew in popularity, it became too large for one grid so it was split into two groups – Sports and GTs in groups 1, saloons in group 2. There were now large speed differentials between fastest and slowest in each group, and at most circuits, several of the faster cars had to start from the pit lane, so for 2004/05, the cars were grouped according to speed, with a speed bar at 1:15 for the slower group, and the faster group at 1:08 (at the original Pukekohe track) . This worked brilliantly with several groups of drivers now in each category, having their own battles within the races.
RETRO CLASSICS, REPLICAS & CODs
The very successful Targa New Zealand initiated by Mike John, encouraged a massive variety of cars, some of which were classics and also had classic engine transplants. Most prominent of these was Jonathon Hills with his Rover V8 powered Triumph Herald Coupe, a real crowd pleaser. Jo wanted to race the car too, and along with several other Targa competitors, applied to join our series. Those running genuine classics had no problem. Although by this time, an autocratic dictatorial organisation, we put out a note to all our existing drivers asking them if the car could run, and there was overwhelming support for the inclusion, so our rules were rewritten to allow a limited number of Retro Classics, subject to certain restrictions, one of which was an acceptance by the existing members.
Ongoing during this phase, there was a proposal that all classic cars should have a Certificate of Description. Initially this was optional, then at a MSNZ conference, it was made compulsory, then optional, then compulsory again! We opted to stay with optional.
TACCOC already had a rule barring classics with engine transplants and also replicas, even if that replica was a faithful copy of the original, such as Rogan Hampson’s Ohlsen Cobra complete with polished alloy body. When TACCOC refused to accept either the Cobra or the Triumph, we had an obvious philosophical difference, so when they decided to make CoD’s compulsory at all their meetings, we had no option but to pull out and seek rounds of the series elsewhere. This was easy enough, as whilst TACCOC were shrinking, the Historic Racing Club was growing, and with additional rounds at Club Lotus and Auckland Car Club events, the series continued to flourish.
AES – AUCKLAND ENGINERERING SUPPLIES
After ten years of fantastic sponsorship support from Geoff Bonham’s Leisuretime Spa & Pool Covers, Geoff had a minor health hiccup and decided to retire from racing his MGB GT (which I bought…) and Mike Petersen persuaded a long time friend, Stephen Harris to support the series through his AES company. This was a fantastic move and AES have taken over from Leisuretime, though for many people, it is still referred to as the Leisuretime Series!
HISTORIC RACING CLUB
As Derek Prior and I were both members of the MGCC, the series always ran under their auspices, so when we promoted and ran our own race meetings, the MGCC were allocated a share of the meeting profits, in return for their manpower support. With the rise of F5000 racing, instigated by the HRC, our traditional end January Pukekohe booking was handed over to HRC who made a spectacular success of it with a higher profile whilst also developing the new Hampton Downs Motorsport Park. The MGCC realised that they hadn’t the committed manpower to run race meetings, we asked if we could run under the auspices of HRC – so in 2009, we did.
Whilst the argument was raging about the CoD system and our subsequent withdrawal from TACCOC meetings, a series for CoD vehicles only was then run mainly at TACCOC and HRC meetings, sponsored by Arrow Wheels and run by Derek Atkinson (Morgan V8).
With several of our own drivers having a COD, this gave them an additional race but with no speed bar, it also allowed in cars that were deemed too fast for our own series. The series ran fairly good grids but there was not the support anticipated as the series just turned into a battle between the two fastest cars – “Racing Ray” Williams Porsche Turbo and Bruce Manon’s rapid Ford Escort. Waiting in the wings were Derek’s Morgan and the Turpin Jaguar XJS, John Honore’s Ferrari and Greg Suttons Datsun 240Z. All of those runners with the exception of the Turbo Porsche and Derek’s Morgan had been former ERC Series members moved on for being too fast. To pad out the numbers, there were also one or two later model BMW saloons accepted that were too new for our own series.
Towards the end of the 2008/2009 season, Derek Atkinson stood down from convening the Arrow Wheels Series but no replacement was found, so effectively, the series folded. At the same time, Greg Bellingham had sold out of Tracer and the logic was to transfer the Arrow Wheels sponsorship over to what was the Tracer Series, running under our ERC banner.
So, for the 2009/2010 season, our structure was updated to incorporate the cars from the previous Arrow Wheels Series, who would otherwise have no races in which they could compete. This move combined with the opening of the Hampton Downs track heralded a new beginning and the first season closed with a massive 134 paid up drivers.
THE SERIES HAS NOW HAD OVER 100 REGISTERED DRIVERS FOR THE LAST SEVEN SEASONS AND IT WAS CLAIMED TO BE THE LARGEST CLASSIC RACE GROUP IN THE COUNTRY – IN FACT, IT WAS THE LARGEST RACE GROUP OVERALL, UNTIL THE BMW SERIES TOOK OFF, THEN THE U2K CUP…!
2015/2016 IS THEREFORE YEAR 30 SO IT ALSO MAKES IT ONE OF THE LONGEST RUNNING SERIES