• 1985 Wellington Street Race Photos

    I was sifting through a couple of folders on my computer recently when I stumbled upon a pile of images sent to me by Martin Smith and Steve Twist for a magazine article I’d written a couple of years ago on the 1985 Wellington Street Race. The images are so fantastic, I wanted to share them here.

    The Wellington Street Race was the right event that happened at the right time. New Zealand needed this. With spectator interest continuing a downward spiral from the heady days of the Tasman Series two decades earlier, local motor racing desperately needed a shot in the arm, a high profile international event that was so clearly something special, something glamorous, that would reinvigorate the enthusiasm that had largely drained away following years of simply going through the motions.

    The Wellington Street Race was the brainchild of Kerry Powell and Ian Gamble, two ambitious Auckland businessmen working for the Strathmore Group, which had fingers in various investment pies, including race horses and sports marketing.

    Powell and Gamble, two self-professed petrolheads, had come up with the idea of holding an international motorsport event on the streets of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. They’d put plenty of work into the venture, including a detailed map of the race track, but an endless stream of red-tape killed the project, and they began to look further afield instead.

    They decided to focus on New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington, which had several advantages over Auckland, in that it had a very definitive central hub, and hosted less international sporting events than Auckland, therefore providing less competition for the potential spectators dollar. With the Wellington council proving more enthusiastic about the concept, planning began in earnest in 1983, and in July 1984, an announcement was made that New Zealand’s capital city would host an international motor racing event in January 1985. It would be sponsored by Nissan, and a new magazine called Cue.

    On early planning, the actual type of category chosen to headline the Wellington Street Race had not yet been decided upon. But its January 1985 date would prove crucial to its success. Had this event happened twelve months earlier, its possible it may not have enjoyed the level of support that it did. But as it happened, the international Group A touring car formula was on a rapid rise. Group A was strong in the UK and in Europe, and as well as there being several domestic touring car championships held under Group A rules, so too the European Touring Car Championship was run under Group A.

    Additionally, after years of battling, the Confederation for Australian Motorsport (CAMS) finally gave up on its local and unique Group C touring car regulations, in favour of Group A, which would come into affect from the 1985 season. And New Zealand had also adopted Group A from its 1984/85 touring car championship season, bringing it into line with Australia for the first time.

    And so the timing of the first Wellington Street Race was perfect, as not only would it allow Australian teams a chance to test their new machinery against international competition before their own championship sprung into action in February, 1985, but international teams and drivers could be imported by the event organisers, and local teams could buy existing race cars, in order to compete.

    While New Zealand had already adopted Group A from late 1984, the number of actual local full-blooded Group A cars was minimal. The BMW 635CSi’s of Neville Crichton and Kent Baigent were the only offerings, against a mixed bag of former Benson & Hedges/ANZ endurance racing Ford Falcon’s and Holden Commodore’s, which had been upgraded, for the most part, to Group A spec. From the time of their arrival, the beautiful BMW’s held the clear upper-hand over the local competition.

    The Wellington Street Race would be a 500km endurance event, and the first of two such endurance races held over consecutive weekends, with the second race taking place at Pukekohe. Although the street event was clearly the jewel in the crown, teams would contest both events, and an overall winner would be awarded, as well as winners for each race.

    On announcement of the race in mid-1984, so too quickly followed an impressive list of potential super-star drivers, including Jochen Mass, Gerhard Berger, Mario and Michael Andretti, Andy Rouse, Frank Sytner, Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Denny Hulme, Larry Perkins, Jim Richards, John Goss, Allan Moffat, George Fury, Kevin Bartlett, and even ‘Dukes Of Hazzard’ tv series star, John Schneider! As time marched on, so many of the big names dropped off, one by one, but ultimately the entry list was still impressive, and certainly the most exciting car and driver line-up seen on New Zealand soil for many years.

    The field of cars comprised a TWR Rover Vitesse for Tom Walkinshaw and Sydney businessman Ron Dickson. A trio of BMW 635CSi’s were entered, including the Crichton and Baigent cars (with regulars Wayne Wilkinson and Neil Lowe as co-drivers), plus an entry from the UK, driven by Frank Sytner and local driver John Morton. Morton had been racing a Ford Falcon XE in the New Zealand touring car series with Robbie Francevic.

    Peter Brock and Larry Perkins were entered in the first Group A Commodore to emerge from the Holden Dealer Team. Dick Johnson had entered one of his recently acquired Zakspeed built Mustang’s, while a second Mustang was entered for Laurie Nelson and Peter Jones. A further three Commodore’s were entered for Lew McKinnon/John Power, Chris and Robert Belbin, and Trevor McLean/Ron Harrop. Although three Group A Falcon’s had been competing on the local New Zealand scene throughout the 1984/85 season, only one of these, the Pinepac car of brothers Bruce and Wayne Anderson, had entered the Wellington event. Bill McFarlane/Wayne Murdoch were entered in a V6 Capri, while an unknown quantity was a Volvo 240T, to be driven by Pierre Dieudonne/Mark Petch.

    The field was then bolstered by several smaller class cars, competing for honors in either the 0-1600cc, or 1601-2500cc classes.

    The rest of this collection can be viewed here > >

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Photos: 1985 Wellington Street Race Photos started by Steve Holmes View original post