Over the last five years or so, the New Zealand Festival Of Motor Racing (NZFMR) has gone from a concept to what is now, potentially, the most talked about circuit-race event in the country. On the face of it, the concept is a simple one: gather as many historically significant race cars as possible, throw in a theme to keep the event different each year, and spread it out over two weekends of action-packed racing.
This year, the event was celebrating Porsche, or more so Porsche’s impact on the local motor-racing scene, and as expected, there were race-spec Porsches galore.
The festival has become much more than just a race meet though, and as such there were even more non-race Porsches on display, and in the car park, than there were on the track.
From the more budget-friendly, yet seemingly rare 914 model.
Right up to the totally unaffordable 2015 918 Spyder and 2015 Carrera GT, of which Porsche New Zealand had on display.
In fact, there were simply too many impressive cars that they all tended to blur into each other. Take this line-up of GT3s for example; each an outstanding car on their own, let alone in a group.
No matter what model of Porsche tickles your fancy, chances are there were a few of them on display, not to mention a few you never knew existed to begin with.
It was interesting wandering through the infield and just admiring the details on some of the vehicles, as, despite many at first glance looking the same, there were in fact plenty of differences — as the wheels on these two GT3s indicate.
Amongst the seemingly endless line-up of late-models were plenty of classics — this particular 356 stood out to us as one of the best.
Judging from the badges affixed to the rear of it, we’d guess it’s done a bit of globetrotting in its time. Not that you’d pick it with such an immaculate appearance.
Speaking of well-travelled Porsches, amongst the highlights of the cars on display was a Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1, looking identical to the machine that Kiwis Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley have individually driven to global success in. Sadly though it was just a full-size model, as opposed to the real deal.
However this beautiful ’77 935 was the real deal, and was out cutting laps. The 935s were factory-built race cars; the one on display having claimed a podium finish at a Nürburgring event in 1977 before being used as a development mule. The car currently belongs to the Porsche Museum in Germany — thankfully they weren’t afraid of it getting put to use.
Also belonging to the Porsche Museum, and out on track, was a 1998 LMP 1, which ironically started life as a Jaguar, before Porsche cut the roof off it and fitted a flat-six turbo engine. The car raced at Le Mans in 1998, but failed to finish. Apparently within the first few of its demo laps, the car was sitting very close to the Hampton Downs track record. Impressive stuff for a car that’d had no mechanical adjustments made to it to suit the track!
What impressed me, personally, more than those two though, was Bill Fulford’s Lighting Direct Porsche 964, which has recently undergone a full restoration. I remember watching the car in action years ago and being impressed by it, and now, nearly two decades later, it’s still blisteringly fast.
For speed fans, the Formula 5000 class is always hard to go past, and at this year’s NZFMR there was again a great field of genuine old cars. Despite the fact that most of these vehicles are worth ridiculous amounts, the drivers toss them around at full pace.
Veteran driver, and holder of almost every lap record in New Zealand, Kenny Smith, showed that despite his age, he’s still got what it takes to win races. Although, Alan Dunkley was giving him a good run, which was great to see.
Also impressive, both in the pits and out on track, was the Historic Muscle Cars (HMC) class. This class is aimed at cars being totally period correct, and all running on a control tyre, which doesn’t feature the technology of today, meaning they’re traction challenged at the best of times, let alone a few laps in.
Previous NZV8 feature-car owner Dave Sturrock’s Camaro was amongst the HMC field, and managed a few wins over the weekend.
That’s impressive for a car that looks like it’s too nice to ever be driven in anger!
With HMC running a joint field with Historic Saloon Cars, there were a few oddities out on track too, including this very cool 1977 Datsun 240K powered by a 2.4-litre, triple-carbed straight-six.
The man having the most fun in HMC though was Glenn Allingham in his angry small block–powered 1970 Camaro. No matter when you looked at the car, it was never heading straight. We’re not sure how long his tyres last, but it’d be fair to say he goes through them at twice the pace of every other competitor.
Also amongst the HMC field were a few genuine old cars, such as the iconic Fleetwood Mustang, driven by Ivan Segedin and Red Dawson in years gone by, and currently driven by Neil Tollich.
While the Fleetwood car has been at HMC previously, parked next to it, for the first time since 1968, was Nigel McDonald’s 1967 Shelby, a car also driven by Red Dawson, and recently restored to perfection
Again, both of these cars hold huge historical and financial value. But if you think they’re driven gingerly, you’d be wrong. Check out the bumper on Tollich’s car …
Also, as part of the HMC display, a handful of well-known drivers from years gone by were signing autographs and talking the talk with those who knew the significance of their achievements. Here’s Dennis Marwood and Alan Boyle.
The big banger days where the cars were as wild as their owner’s imaginations will always be remembered as a highlight of New Zealand motorsport history. It was great to see a full field of them back out on track too.
Although, the one we really wanted to see — the Graeme Addis–owned Valiant — was suffering from clutch issues, so didn’t turn a tyre in full anger whilst we were present.
The car, for those who don’t know, is essentially a Valiant body dropped over a modified Formula 5000 chassis, complete with rear engine and transaxle. It’s a wild machine, and it’s great to see that Graeme's never sold it, nor intends to ever sell it.
Addis’s car wasn’t alone in being crazy, with a handful of equally as absurd creations sharing pit and grid space, such as the Barry Algie Monaro.
And the well-known Alfetta of Gordon Burr, which runs the engine right back inside the cockpit.
Listening to the sounds of the cars out on track is always interesting. During the Formula Junior’s track sessions, there was one sound that stood out from the rest. While it sounded like a rotary, it turns out the car is actually powered by a 1050cc two-stroke engine!
The great thing about events such as this, is how freely you can wander the pits and get up close to the cars. Generally when you see something with the bonnet up, it’s well worth a look. This work of art is in the engine bay of Bruce Manon’s Mk2 Escort.
Bruce has raced Ford Escorts for longer than many of us have been alive, and sadly was involved in a high-speed incident at Leadfoot Festival a few years back, destroying his previous machine. The new car (with plenty of parts from the old car) not only looks great, but was amongst the highlights when watching the European Racing Classics field.
After not having been to Hampton Downs Motorsport Park since Tony Quinn purchased the facility last year, it was great to see the difference an injection of capital had made, now allowing the venue to be completed to the original owner’s vision. Included in this was plenty of earth moving to create the always-intended track extension.
But even without the longer track, Hampton Downs really is a great facility, and even at a meeting like this, where there’s a big crowd, it’s still easy to find a good vantage point, or a spot to sit and have a picnic while the cars race past mere metres away.
Regardless of where you’re viewing from, you’re bound to catch plenty of action too, especially at an event like NZFMR, with such impressive and varied fields of cars.
If you get a chance, we highly suggest you make the trip down on the weekend of January 23–24 to catch the second weekend of the festival — and, of course, book out plenty of time next January to catch the whole festival. We assure you, you won’t be disappointed.