Hampton Downs; 14th – 15th January 2017

NZ is ‘down under’, but this time we flew backwards as well – and lost a day as we crossed the International Date Line – all very confusing! Even more so as the whole of the stoppage time at LA airport was taken up by security and passport checks, finger prints by machine and then AGAIN manually, having had luggage searched and then rushing to get back on the same plane as it wanted to take off – indeed one passenger didn’t make it back in time and was ‘offloaded’.  What a nonsense; perhaps Mr Trump will do something about that too! 

 So, despite (because of?) resulting late arrival in Auckland, we made it (apparently) fastest ever through luggage collection to be greeted at 6.30am!  – by Nigel Russell and back to Anne and “Indie”, their shiatzu – Maltese cross (soft as anything) at their Birkenhead home with a view to die for overlooking the Bay on two sides! If that wasn’t enough, underneath, and in immaculate order with every part (thankfully) labelled to its correct chassis, five Formula Juniors, and parts for another two, together with a complete running Alpine-Renault GT under wraps.  Nigel would be running the ex-Ricardo Rodriguez Stanguellini 00198, on the track for the first time for half a century, which he had acquired 10 years before from Alberto Gironella. Nigel had also been given the original purchase invoice with Ricardo’s name, and other documents by the late Pablo Gonzalez.  A superb detailed restoration. The unrestored 00151 came from Tim Ritter in USA, when he closed shop, and the body of 00197 from Kermit O’Neal. Next restoration is the Mk 3 aluminum bodied Gemini, chassis already back for reassembly.  Mk 2 Gemini 1015 (part chassis, with original plate) ex Canada and the other NZ FJ, the Valour (they later made F Vee’s) are longer term projects, with further original parts, hopefully, to find. The familiar FMZ was there too, just back from the UK after Goodwood, but time on the Stanguellini had precluded the intended loan for the NZ sector of the World Tour.

 Duncan had organised to meet John Rummery, his restoration of the ex-Duncan Swallow Doretti chassis no 1525 Reg no 584 DHU beautifully completed, and sadly, age and comfort of Mrs R was dictating a sale.  John had driven down from 2 ½ hours North and was at the Russell door when we arrived home at 7.50am! Great to see another of the cars Duncan saved, now fully restored.  A two-hour chin wag was had before John headed back North again, in the open topped Doretti, and Nigel and Duncan headed for Hampton Downs to meet up with Robin Longdon and Dave Innes, where the insect inspectors from MAF were on site to sign off all the overseas containers from UK (2), USA, Western Australia and the ‘Round the World’ one, ex UK. Par for the course, ‘South African’ Dave Innes had already discovered that the lead inspector was ex-Zimbabwe, and the two ‘Africans’ were already blood brothers – result: the containers all well on their way to clearance!! Only significant problem was that the ‘Round the World Container’ had been dumped separately, doors hard against the fence, and nothing could be extracted!  Not, that is, until Greg Thornton’s team, Tom and Greg’s NZ preparer of his F5000, had tied the end of the container to their low geared truck and physically dragged it by rope to 45 degrees!! And the doors were now clear to extract the two 27’s of Dave Innes (for gearbox/clutch repair) and Marty Bullock (for maintenance) and Duncan’s Alexis, which was the only one intended to be racing this weekend.  Already also present included Robin and Sue Longdon who had been in NZ since after the FJ AGM early December, Peter Boel, Phil Foulkes, Noel Woodford, Chris (NZ) Atkinson, Ian Garmey, Tony Olissoff, Bruce Edgar and the US contingent of JR Mitchell, Travis Engen and Doug Elcomb.

 Mair and Anne had been left for a day’s walk in the Bush, but we headed back to Birkenhead p.m as Nigel and Anne were off to a wedding, and we were ‘dog sitting’.  

 Friday, we collected a trailer from behind Nigel’s business warehouse, loaded the Stanguellini after last minute fixing of windscreen, and headed for HD again – where already Chris Atkinson had been testing in the ex-Mike McKee Lotus 18 Chassis no Atkinson J 703, for a first outing after a full strip down and rebuild – water pump drive had fallen off – resultant overheating and suspected bent pushrod and valves: fortunately he was not entered for the racing this weekend and headed away for repairs.  Nonetheless Chris was happy that the testing had proved that the bugging gear linkage problems had been resolved.

 It was a compact entry for the weekend on the traditional HD circuit, the first historic (and second ever) race on the new long circuit to be at the Kenny Smith Tribute Meeting next week.  Twelve entered this weekend, but Tony Simmons found he was not one of them! This was soon sorted, with his orange BT6, assisted by Bruce Hoskins, so that made 13. Other likely contenders were Robs Lamplough (with Wendy Barnhart) and assisted by Roger Dowd in his ‘first Brabham’ BT2 FJ.1.62 and Bruce Edgar from WA in Elfin Catalina 6319 assisted by Phil …..Grant Clearwater was running his ex-Reg Hargrave Cooper T59 but only on heavily marked NZ papers showing that it had incorrect Ford (should be BMC) engine and non-compliant Hewland GB, and in Invitation class only.  Drum braked FJ’s predominated with the very original (down to original “heavy” body and Renault box, original to the car) 18 J 744 of John Holmes, and from the USA, the yellow JR Mitchell 18 and also under his wing, the red Nick Grewal Lotus 18, which JR ran in on Thursday testing.  And of course, Doug Elcomb in the Dreossi!  Local man, Ian Garmey brought out his T56 too, and last, but not least Jim Barclay, long time previous organiser of the Tasman Revival – in his red Gemini Mk 3A.

For the fronts, it was Paul Halford’s Autosud, the remarkable Walter Findlay (assisted by Rex Harrison) with Elva-DKW 100/74, Nigel Russell’s ‘new’ Stanguellini, and Duncan’s Alexis – well not for that long.  Duncan did two of the testing sessions on Thursday, but ominous black smoke emerged, and the engine shot out a significant amount of oil through its breather. All was not well! Robin Longdon had the head gasket off, and changed the gasket, but compression was still down on 3 and 4 – so engine out and everyone lent a hand – Robin, Neville, Dave Innes, Tony Olissoff, Nigel et al to get the engine fixed over the coming days, each investigation revealing deeper trouble!! The camaraderie was unparalleled, which Duncan could all but gratefully sit and watch….

 We returned to Nigel’s home on Friday evening, before a trip to Takapu to see the amazing Gannet colony and back at the track on Saturday for 9 am briefing.  JR suggested that Nick Grewal might lend Duncan the 18.  Nick could not be contacted in USA until after qualifying, but readily agreed and Duncan was to join R1 from the back, having only just sat in the car.

Qualifying for the rest, was Bruce Edgar dominated, Bruce having been in NZ before, with Robs Lamplough 0.1s ahead of Tony Simmons, JR now in the groove and a remarkable Walter Findlay’s beautiful Elva-DKW ahead of Doug’s Dreossi.  Nigel was very pleased to have the Stanguellini just ahead of Ian Garmey.  Grant Clearwater’s breather problems emerged…

The FJ race was the last to go, and a real cracker it proved to be with Bruce Edgar and Robs swapping places, but both giving each other room in the NZ racing tradition, but on the line, it was finally Bruce by 0.2secs, with JR a clear third ahead of a lonely Tony Simmons.  There was some spirited racing in the pack, while at the back, Duncan got the hang of the 18 after a slow start and all but caught Ian Garmey on the line by 0.1s.  Nigel had gone off circuit to get parts to solve a rubbing rear brake, and the FJ’s were leaving the holding area as he returned, so a non-starter this time, as was Grant Clearwater with breather problems unresolved.

Evening jollity followed round the Phil Foulkes/Robin Longdon camper chorale and some very tired bunnies returned to bed that night!

Sunday dawned dull, with rain forecast, and it was not to disappoint.  Race 2 was dry and another superb race, Robs leading, but Bruce was ahead on the penultimate lap, but Robs got it back, by just 0.1s at a near photo finish, as Bruce backed off slightly with Nigel Russell, about to be lapped, just ahead.  JR had a terrific race ahead of Tony Simmons, with Tony just managing to squeeze by on the last lap. A similarly terrific battle behind was led by Walter Findlay but by lap 8 Findlay, Elcomb, Jim Barclay and Paul Halford were all together; next lap and Doug had dropped to the tail, but the wily Halford employed his expertise and led Barclay home, with poor Walter back behind him, but still with Doug behind.  Sadly, Ian Garmey was unwell so it was Nigel and Duncan battling at the back, until Nigel slowed on the penultimate lap as, with only one mirror, he could not see Duncan just behind.  Grant Clearwater again stopped, this time with defunct rotor arm.

After the race, at lunch time there was a display of Reynard racing cars, one driver being Adrian Reynard himself: quite fortunately Duncan had his Reynard history by Mike Lawrence on the plane to read – already inscribed by Mike, it now had a dedication from Adrian Reynard too – who subsequently went on to win the last FF race before the Juniors in a loaned Reynard RF84. The commentator, John Tomlin fitted in a short interview with Duncan after the Reynards.

 By now the rains had come – and gone – but just before the last FJ race they came back with a vengeance.  Several NZ and the US drivers ran for cover, saving the cars for next weekend, but the leaders were not afraid, and Robs, Bruce, Tony, Grant Clearwater and Duncan lined up.  Tony was troubled by gear selection problems so pitted on the warming up lap, but did rejoin from the pit lane for three slow laps.  Robs led for 5 laps, closely followed by Bruce, with Grant and Duncan in sight.  Robs then ground to a halt, electrics were suspected, so Bruce led Grant, with Duncan catching him – sadly the flag came out without warning at the end of lap 7, as Grant stopped out on circuit on what would have been lap 8! But Duncan was happy with 3rd!! and respectable times in the wet, only 4s slower than the winner.

 A few FJ drivers had taken the opportunity to air other single seaters.  Phil Foulkes ran his locally modified Trident Palliser in the FF race and Robin double drove it in Formula Libre – but gearbox problems intervened.  Bill Norman had Peter Boel’s Lotus 51, but a stripped distributor drive put an early end to the weekend, and Tony Olissoff was giving his BT21 -35 fitted with Ford t/c motor an airing in Formula Libre too, the car having a predilection to be a reluctant starter, and a few exhausted helpers eventually got him away from the holding area after several push attempts.

A good relaxed weekend  – and Duncan and Mair were relocated with Noel and Sharyn Woodford for Sunday evening dinner, before three days at the Woodford cottage on Waiheke Island.