The New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs from January 20-22 will celebrate the career of the legendary Kenny Smith, who’s been racing professionally since 1958.
However, most of the drivers who will take to the track during the festival are ‘gentlemen racers’, who work during the week and indulge their passion for cars at the weekend.
Take Peter Burson and his son Aaron for example. Their day job is running the family business out of Papakura. T.A.T.E.S. supplies truck and trailer spare parts to the transport industry, however for the last ten years the Burson’s have spent most weekends living out their ‘boy racer’ dreams on the track.
“I always wanted to buy a car but I could never afford it when I was starting the business,” explains Peter. “My two sons, Nigel and Aaron were into motorbikes and motocross and back in 2005 we bought a Talon Formula 5000 car from Tony Roberts, the previous owner of Hampton Downs.”
Peter’s son Aaron was 33 at the time and had never raced before.
“I’d never raced anything before I jumped in the Talon,” says Aaron. “I’d never even raced a go-kart. I’d done a few track days on a motorbike but never in a car. I remember a couple of the experienced guys sat me down and said to me, ‘You’re new to this. You can obviously drive but this is a completely different ball game. Start off slow, pick a target and if you pass one car, then pick your next target.’ It was simple advice but it’s served me well.”
Aaron won a race in his first season and finished second in the championship.
“That was me,” he says. “I was hooked. Dad saw how much fun I was having and so he bought a McRae GM1 while he was on business in the UK.”
Peter’s first race was at Phillip Island in 2007 but unlike Aaron he wasn’t exactly what you’d call a natural.
“I’d never driven a race car before and Phillip Island is a big, intimidating track to make your debut on,” says Peter. “I wasn’t frightened behind the wheel but let’s just say I was pretty apprehensive. My first race didn’t go that well but I upped my game after that.”
“I’ll never be a Kenny Smith. I’m not up the front with the top guys but you find your niche with guys of a similar talent and similar horsepower car. If your car is going well and it’s good clean racing then it’s a lot of fun and these old cars are a pleasure to drive.”
“They might be old cars but after three or four laps when the tyres have warmed up and you’ve got good grip it’s like sitting in an armchair,” says Aaron. “But they can travel. At Albert Park a few years ago the Formula 5000s were lapping four or five seconds quicker than V8 Supercars. When you push for nine-tenths or ten-tenths that’s when they get a bit hairy.”
“We’ve been lucky really,” says Peter. “We haven’t had any big offs but Aaron seems to be a magnet for other drivers who run over the top of him or into the side of him.”
At the NZFMR Aaron will compete in the Formula 5000 category in the the McRae GM1 F5000 and he will also pilot a BRM-P201 in the Historic Formula 1 category. Peter will be behind the wheel of another McRae GM1 F5000 and a BRM P207.
“The NZFMR is always a great weekend,” says Aaron. “We really enjoy the racing and we try to have a bit of fun as well. It’s been such a cool thing to do with Peter. We’ve raced at Phillip Island, we’ve raced at the Australian Grand Prix twice and we’ve got to do some incredible things and meet some great people.”
“We’ve got a great team around us including our mechanic Laurie Gerrand, Duncan Fox and the boys at Motorsport Solutions and Craig Hyland who builds the F5000 engines,” says Peter. “Kenny is an unbelievable man and the NZFMR is a fitting tribute to him. He’s still super competitive and he’s so knowledgeable and willing to help anyone who cares to listen. The old boys are really passionate about the old cars and they love seeing them pushed out in anger. We’re just privileged to be a part of it.”
Pic Caption: Peter Burson is in the Mc Rae GM1 F5000 leads Alistair Russell around Ruapuna
Pic Credit: Alex Mitchell