Frank Lyons was at Silverstone in 1977 when James Hunt won the British Grand Prix in a McLaren M26 F1. "If you'd told me back then that I would own James Hunt's car one day I'd have said there was more chance of me being struck by lightning," says the Englishman.
Lyons is the man responsible for bringing eight Historic Formula 1 cars to New Zealand for the NZ Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs this weekend and the Race of Champions at Taupo next weekend.
"There's never been a collection of Formula 1 cars like this in New Zealand before," says Lyons. "There have been demos of different Formula 1 cars but never a race like this. It's a rare opportunity for motorsport fans to see these historic cars up close. A lot of people can identify with these cars because they grew up watching them. The beauty of having them here at Hampton Downs is you can walk in the back of the garage and touch the car. You can't have that experience at a meeting in Europe or the US."
Hunt's Marlboro McLaren and a Lotus JPS 76 in the classic black and gold John Player Special livery are two of the most valuable cars on the grid.
"The cars we have at Hampton Downs are worth anywhere between £250,000 to £1 million," says Lyons. "The McLaren and the JPS are probably at the upper end of that scale because they were two iconic teams. There was a time when these cars were not worth much money because there was nowhere to race. Since we started a race series for them over the last ten or 15 years the value of these cars has been steadily going up. I've had offers for the McLaren, as have several other owners for their cars, but the buyers want to put them in a museum. We think that's wrong. These cars were built for racing."
As well as the McLaren and the Lotus the other cars confirmed for the starting grid for two races at Hampton Downs on Saturday and Sunday afternoon include a pair of Hesketh cars, two BRMs (owned by Peter and Aaron Burson from Auckland), a Surtees and a March.
"People can expect real racing," says Lyons. "We'll have 9 or ten cars on the grid at Hampton Downs. In Europe we have 25-30 cars but this is the first time we've bought Historic F1 cars to New Zealand in any numbers. We're testing the waters but I'm hopeful that we'll be back in this part of the world next year with even more cars. I know when we get back home the boys who have travelled down here will spread the word. Some owners were quite nervous about the idea of putting their very expensive car in a container and sending it 12,000 miles to the bottom of the world. Unless they've been to New Zealand before it is like going to another stratosphere but everything has gone really smoothly.
Lyons' son Michael is the current FIA Masters Historic F1 Champion and the favourite this weekend in the Penthouse/Rizla Hesketh 308E formerly driven by Englishman, Rupert Keegan.
"Rupert was a bit of a character and he was sponsored by Penthouse," says Lyons. "When he was at the circuit for a race he used to walk around pit lane with a couple of Penthouse pets on each arm. That was back in the good ol' days of motorsport."