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Thread: Photos: 1985 Wellington Street Race Photos

  1. #1

    Photos: 1985 Wellington Street Race Photos

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    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 honours in either the 0-1600cc, or 1601-2500cc classes.

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    By the time the event actually arrived, the big 2501 & Over class had been depleted further. Both the Mustang’s were withdrawn. Media reports at the time suggest homologation issues as the reason for their withdrawal, even though Mustang’s had been competing in Group A in Europe since 1982, and three cars, including both of those entered in the Wellington event, had entered the 1984 Bathurst 1000 a few months earlier in the Group A class. With Johnson out, Bruce Anderson made a phone call inviting the Queenslander to drive alongside him in the big Falcon, which was accepted. Furthermore, the Petch owned Volvo would see a complete driver reshuffle come the actual event, with Belgian Michel Delcourt and Robbie Francevic stepping in. Delcourt had been campaigning a GTM Engineering 240T throughout the 1984 ETCC.

    The track itself provided its share of problems. As this was a temporary street circuit, and no high speed testing of the course could take place until the barriers and containers had been put in place, and the roads closed to the public, nobody really had any idea how long it would take to complete a lap at race speed. It was estimated something around the 1min 17sec range would be achievable, but in fact, the track would prove significantly slower, with the fastest cars lapping around the 1.32sec range. Therefore, with live tv, and this being a time-crucial event, the race was shortened from 500km to 375km.

    Additionally, Cue magazine folded just prior to the race, leaving Nissan as the main sponsor. Therefore, the race would be called the Nissan Sport 500. Mobil oil would come in as joint sponsor from the 1986 race.

    Dick Johnson proved clearly the fastest driver in the field in the big Anderson brothers Falcon, which surprised many, while the Volvo suffered shipping delays, and didn’t actually arrive at the track until the Saturday morning, missing out on qualifying, so would start off the back. The Walkinshaw Rover suffered a practice shunt when hit in the side by the Belbin Commodore. Its engine and gearbox were ripped from their mountings, the left front door heavily damaged, and the drivers seat broken. The team rebuilt the car for the race, but hadn’t detected the gearbox casing had been cracked.

    Johnson recorded a 1.32:37 to take pole. He was followed by Baigent/Lowe, Sytner/Morton, Crichton/Wilkinson, Brock/Perkins, Walkinshaw/Dickson, and the rest.

    The race itself was an absolute ripper. Johnson just killed them from the off, and scorched away in the early laps, building a comfortable margin, despite nursing the Falcon’s brakes and delicate rear-end. The Crichton/Wilkinson BMW was his closest rival in the early laps, while next were a gaggle of cars fighting over third position including the two other 635’s, the Brock/Perkins Commdore, the Rover, and, after just eight laps, the Volvo, which had started at the rear.

    Johnson was out after nine laps, with rear-end failure, and the rest of the race saw a series of dramas in which cars would rise to the head of the field, only to topple back down the order again for various reasons. The Rover retired when all the oil came out of the gearbox and the gears got stripped. On lap 130, and with 20 laps to run, the Sytner/Morton BMW (with Morton driving) was holding a comfortable 45sec lead over the Volvo (driven by Francevic), which had pitted several times to have loose bodywork, and the hood in particular, taped down after bumping into several other cars throughout the race.

    When Morton spun, the gap was cut to just 8sec, and with 10 laps remaining, Francevic moved into the lead. However, the hood on the Volvo began to lift once more, and so Francevic eased his pace to reduce the lift. This allowed Morton to close back up again, and was just three car lengths behind at the end.

    It had been such a dramatic, exciting race, but the drama was not yet over. The Volvo was awarded the win, Francevic and Delcourt sprayed the champagne, but Sytner and Morton were adamant they were the winners, and that the Volvo was merely unlapping itself after losing so much time in the pits. The results stood, but the arguments continue to this day.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy these photos from Martin and Steve from this event. It really did live up to all the hype, and is greatly missed today. It was a superb event, and a monumental achievement.

  3. #3
    Heading into the race, the TWR Rover was expected to be a leading contender, and probably the fastest car outright. In fact, the Wellington race was a miserable one for Walkinshaw. The beautiful raspy V8 racer with its little 3.5 litre motor was much happier on high speed European race tracks than the tight little Wellington layout. But the weekend started out badly after a practice shunt, and never recovered.

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    Martin Smith photo

  4. #4
    This is what the Rover looked like after its coming together with the Belbin Commodore. The panel work was only part of the problem, and in fact the Rover raced with a sizable dent still in the door. But it was the gearbox that destroyed Walkinshaw's weekend. A crack in the casing sustained in the accident wasn't detected as the team raced to repair the car. After working his way through to second in the early laps, oil began spewing from the gearbox, and although the team topped up the oil during the first pit stop, the car was back in for good a few laps later, with the gears stripped.

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    Martin Smith photo

  5. #5
    This is moments after the start, as the field sweeps into the tight hairpin for the first time. Johnson is already well in command.

    Note the flaggies perched on the concrete wall that separates the two straights here!

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    Martin Smith photo

  6. #6
    Great shot here of Dick Johnson in the Anderson Falcon. Johnson qualified the big Ford in 1.32:37, yet from the standing start, he completed the opening lap in 1.32:04. From there he punched in an amazing 1.31:1 on his second lap, and first flying lap, and after two tours, was already 4.5sec ahead of the second placed car!

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    Martin Smith photo

  7. #7
    World Champion ERC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Holmes View Post
    It had been such a dramatic, exciting race, but the drama was not yet over. The Volvo was awarded the win, Francevic and Delcourt sprayed the champagne, but Sytner and Morton were adamant they were the winners, and that the Volvo was merely unlapping itself after losing so much time in the pits. The results stood, but the arguments continue to this day.
    No disrespect to Mark Petch, but I watched every minute of that race, glued to the TV screen and am one of those who believe the Sytner/Morton car won. (Nothing to do with Frank Sytner being from Nottingham either!)

    I can't remember the Volvo unlapping itself and it certainly spent a total of more than 90 seconds particularly given pit entry and exit time losses, sorting out the bonnet pins.

    It was still the best TV motor race I have ever watched.

  8. #8
    Here comes part of the chasing pack. While Johnson was out on his own, those chasing formed a fantastic battle. This is the beautiful Sytner/Morton BMW, which eventually finished second. Did this car stay on in New Zealand following this race? Can anyone fill in its history?

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    Martin Smith photo

  9. #9
    The positions from 3rd through 7th were being swapped constantly. Here Brock heads Baigent/Lowe, and Walkinshaw/Dickson.

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    Martin Smith photo

  10. #10
    Here, 'black beauty' the JPS BMW s Crichton/Wilkinson leads the Baigent/Lowe machine, with Sytner/Morton coming under pressure from the Rover. Note the Volvo has now moved up behind the Rover, from the back of the grid.

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    Martin Smith photo

  11. #11
    Note that Brock is putting the squeeze on Delcourt, who'd stormed through the field in the Volvo.

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    Martin Smith photo

  12. #12
    World Champion ERC's Avatar
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    September 15th 2007. No idea if this is the original or not.

  13. #13
    Here is the Volvo just prior to the race, looking immaculate before the front got bashed in from punting several slower cars out of the way. Does anyone know the history of this car prior to its arrival in NZ? The GTM Engineering cars that Delcourt raced in Europe look identical, right down to the white tape on the headlights and italic race number backing, so I assume its one of these cars: http://touringcarracing.net/Pages/p%...lverstone.html

    And where is it now?

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    Martin Smith photo

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by ERC View Post
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    September 15th 2007. No idea if this is the original or not.
    Oh wow, thanks Ray, that looks amazing!

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    You'd be hard pressed to call the Volvo racy, or pretty. But it always looked very businesslike, and the rear spoiler and those cool solid-mesh inserts on the front wheels really looked neat. The little 4 cylinder turbo machine shouldn't have performed on the stop-go Wellington street layout, which was as different as you could get from its natural environment on the high speed European race tracks, but somehow it did. Surprisingly, a week later on the fast and sweeping Pukekohe track, it wasn't as competitive!

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    Martin Smith photo

  16. #16
    Brock and Perkins discuss tactics prior to the race. The Wellington Street Race was the debut racing event for the new HDT Group A Commodore. It suffered various teething troubles, including overheating and a bent pushrod, but battled home to finish 4th. The car did lead for a brief time, which gave the team plenty of encouragement. However, the overheating issues returned for Pukekohe, and on returning to Australia, they couldn't be rectified in testing, so HDT actually withdrew from the opening ATCC round, until they could find a cure.

    Interestingly, the Group A car ran an identical cooling system to that used the previous year on their Group C Commodores. The only difference was that the Group C car ran a much deeper front spoiler, which was pushing more cool air into the engine bay.

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    Martin Smith photo

  17. #17

    NZFMR Saturday 21_093 by SnoozinRichy, on Flickr

    Sytner/Morton car from the BMW Festival, 2012.

    What an awesome thread! One of my very earliest racetrack memories is being at the Wellington Street race as a very small child, it must have been 1986 or 87.

  18. #18
    Wow, another fantastic photo of that beautiful BMW. I've always loved the colour scheme on this car, even though it was only like this for these two races. What happened to this car after the two 1985 Wellington/Puke races? Did John Morton own the car?

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by ERC View Post
    No disrespect to Mark Petch, but I watched every minute of that race, glued to the TV screen and am one of those who believe the Sytner/Morton car won. (Nothing to do with Frank Sytner being from Nottingham either!)

    I can't remember the Volvo unlapping itself and it certainly spent a total of more than 90 seconds particularly given pit entry and exit time losses, sorting out the bonnet pins.

    It was still the best TV motor race I have ever watched.
    This is what Lew MacKinnon wrote on the 10-Tenths Forum a couple of years ago:

    I mentioned earlier about the Wellington Street Race result in 1985 and that John Morton and Frank Sytner felt that they were robbed of 1st place when the win was awarded to the Mark Petch owned Volvo 240 (Michel Delcourt / Robbie Francevic ) with Morton / Sytner ‘s BMW credited with 2nd. Subsequent events indicate that Morton and Sytner may have been right.

    This was the first ever event of this nature for Wellington. The track was along arterial streets of Wellington City and back via the wharves, so the circuit could only be completed on the Friday night, with practice scheduled for Saturday and racing on Sunday. But the circuit failed to pass the inspection – all to do with (the lack of) run off areas / positioning of armco / positioning of shipping containers as barriers etc. In the end, the race was run as a NZ National Invitation race rather than an FIA sanctioned race – and this posed major challenges for drivers holding FIA racing licences. Australian drivers were OK but for the likes of Walkinshaw, Percy, Delcourt, it meant a series of late night calls from NZ to Europe for approvals to be given that they could race at all!

    Officials for the event came (largely) from the Manawatu Car Club (Manfeild Circuit, some 3hrs north of Wellington) and marshals were largely volunteers from local Car Clubs. Electronic tags in cars didn’t happen until the 1986 races, so lap scoring was via a person assigned to each car, sitting in a trackside grandstand and turning over a small, numbered , flip chart each time ‘their’ car passed. TVNZ assigned a person to watch these scorers / these charts, to keep an eye on leaders / update the commentators. There were no official lap scorer(s).

    On the Saturday night (practice was over), the Mark Petch owned Volvo 240T (Francevic / Delcourt) was flown from Auckland to Wellington in a Bristol Freighter and (as it hadn’t practised) it had to start from the rear of the grid. But within a few laps, it was already working steadily through the field.

    Anyone watching the TV at the time would have noted that, toward the final stages of the race, the commentators had no idea who was leading. Or who was second. Or sixth. But the Volvo had become the darling of the event – carving its way through the field but having to make several stops because of a flapping bonnet (broken bonnet clip). But the lap scorers couldn’t keep up with the pit stops and several cars were ‘credited’ with incorrect completed laps. But it had become decision time for the TV team.

    Fast forward to the following year, and the TVNZ Director / Producer for Sport (Iain Eggleton) spoke of the 1985 event to members of the Hutt Valley Car Club near Wellington. He said that, with 90 minutes left of the race, he had no idea who was leading the race and no-one could tell him. So with the race building to a climax and no-one able to tell whether the BMW or the Volvo was leading, HE made the decision and told the commentators to call the Volvo as leading and for the BMW to be second. And that’s how the TV says it finished. The irony is that Eggleton could just as easily have said the BMW was in front and the Volvo in second.

    At the end of the race, Morton and Sytner produced full lap charts done by their team - complete with lap times / cumulative times / pit stops and showed that they had completed an extra lap compared to the laps credited to the ‘winning’ Volvo. But the officials decided that the results were to stand.

    It is clear that Morton and Sytner were stiffed by poor lap scoring, but the ‘win’ by the Volvo quickly evolved into folk lore – it was a story too good to change after the fact. I’ve also replayed the entire TV coverage but agree that it doesn’t provide sufficient proof one way or the other.

    But because of the lap scoring fiasco in 1985, electronic tags were used in each car from 1986.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by ERC View Post
    No disrespect to Mark Petch, but I watched every minute of that race, glued to the TV screen and am one of those who believe the Sytner/Morton car won. (Nothing to do with Frank Sytner being from Nottingham either!)

    I can't remember the Volvo unlapping itself and it certainly spent a total of more than 90 seconds particularly given pit entry and exit time losses, sorting out the bonnet pins.

    It was still the best TV motor race I have ever watched.
    Ray, I have watched 2 videos, one which I recorded in total and one supplied by SKF and as a part of the team I was surprised at the win. I figured we were still behind at the fall of the flag however, history records it as a win for the team. But I still have my doubts.
    Cheers Dave

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