Motorsport: Timing and prestige distinguish NZGP

By Eric Thompson

Young TRS racers out to put their names on trophy alongside some of motor racing’s famous identities
Britain's Lando Norris, 16, is a favourite to win with his smooth and flowing racing style. Photo / Bruce Jenkins
Britain's Lando Norris, 16, is a favourite to win with his smooth and flowing racing style. Photo / Bruce Jenkins

The New Zealand Grand Prix this weekend marks the start of the FIA international motorsport season.

The NZGP at Manfeild, along with the Macau Grand Prix, are the only two races to have official FIA Grand Prix status outside Formula One.

Since 2006, the trophy has been part of the Toyota Racing Series and is again the biggest prize in the five-week, 15-race championship.

However, its roots go back as far as 1950 when the first NZGP was held at the Ohakea Air Force Base in 1950.

It gained an international flavour in 1954 when the event moved to Ardmore, south of Auckland, where crowds of 70,000 would turn up to see young Kiwis such as Ross Jensen, Bruce McLaren and Johnny Mansel challenge international drivers such as Prince Bira, Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Carroll Shelby, Lorenzo Bandini, Joakim Bonnier and Roy Salvadori.

For the next 15 years, fans flocked to watch future and current world champions, the likes of John Surtees, Jack Brabham and Graham Hill, take a break from the European winter and do battle during a New Zealand summer.

There have been some illustrious winners of the coveted trophy over the past 61 years, including Formula One champions Brabham, Surtees, Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart and Keke Rosberg.

Our very own Chris Amon is a two-time winner of the NZGP and has watched over the years how the combatants have changed from being the great and good of then current racers, to the best young racers.

"It [NZGP] has a different type of profile from when I was racing. In my day, it was the established people who came out to race and now it's the up and coming drivers,' said Amon.

"In both cases, you've had some of the better talent racing and it now has a pretty good reputation around the world.

"Instead of Barrie [Thomlinson, TRS category manager] having to travel the world to get drivers to race here, they're now knocking on his door.

"A number of young drivers like Daniil Kvyat and Alex Lynn who raced in the NZGP have gone on to become Formula One drivers."

The allure of winning the NZGP, and getting your name placed alongside such great single seater racing alumni has not been missed by the young crop of drivers racing here this year.

Chief among them is British driver Lando Norris, who over the past two weeks has managed to pull away from the chasing pack. Heading into the three races this weekend, the 16-year-old has a handy 86-point lead over Brazilian Pedro Piquet and Chinese Guanyu Zhou.

"I've managed to improve quite a bit since my first time in the car," said Norris after his first practice session at Manfeild. "I had a bit of a hiccup at Hampton Downs, but as I've got to know the car better, I've also got faster. Everything is now working well together.

"To win the New Zealand Grand Prix would be fantastic, but I really have my eye on winning the championship, which is what every driver wants to do. Winning is always great but I'm really out here to learn as much as I can in preparation for going back to Europe.

"Having said that, it would be pretty cool to have my name alongside some famous names from history and I'll be trying as hard as I can."

The word in pit lane is that Norris is the one to watch with his smooth and flowing style. His likely challenges for the NZGP will be Piquet and Zhou with India's Jehan Daruvala and Kiwi James Munro lurking if the others make a mistake.

Notable winners
Stirling Moss - 1956, 1959, 1962
Jack Brabham - 1958, 1960, 1961
John Surtees - 1963
Bruce McLaren - 1964
Graham Hill - 1965, 1966
Sir Jackie Stewart - 1967
Chris Amon - 1968, 1969
Ken Smith - 1976, 1990, 2004
Keke Rosberg - 1977, 1978
Roberto Moreno - 1982
Paul Radisich - 1988
Craig Baird - 1991, 1992, 1993
Greg Murphy - 1994
Earl Bamber - 2010
Mitch Evans - 2011
Nick Cassidy - 2012, 2013, 2014

- NZ Herald

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