Canadian Jay Esterer (McRae GM1) has added his name to New Zealand motor racing's revered Lady Wigram Trophy after dominating the opening round of the 2011/12 MSC New Zealand F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools Raceway over the weekend
Though he had to concede quicker lap times in qualifying on Saturday morning to top local drivers Steve Ross (McRae GM1) and Ken Smith (Lola T332), the 48-year-old from Edmonton in western Canada won all three MSC F5000 series races, the two eight lap sprint ones on Saturday from Smith and Ross (Race 1) and Smith and fellow Lola T332 driver Roger Williams (the second) and the 15-lap Lady Wigram Trophy feature from Smith and top local driver Tony Richards (Lola T332).
As it turned out Smith didn't make it to the grid to defend his 2010 Lady Wigram Trophy title win (his fourth in the 50+ year history of the race) when his crew led by race engineer Barry Miller ran out of time to replace an input shaft which failed as Smith returned to the pits after chasing Esterer home in the second race.
Having up until that point enjoyed a fairytale debut in the ex Danny Ongais T332 Lola which Miller rebuilt for him, Smith said he felt more sorry for his crew chief, who continued to work on the car as Esterer and Ross fought out the Lady Wigram Trophy race on the track.
"It's a big job in itself, "said Smith, "then when the spare we had didn't fit we had to get in there with the grinder to make it fit. In the end we probably only needed another half an hour but, you know, that's life, there's no use getting all worked up about it. I'm more sorry for Barry (Miller) than I am for myself. I've had let-downs like this before so I can handle them, but, you know, Barry has spent the past 18 months restoring the car to the condition you see it today and I know he's gutted that we couldn't get it back on the track in time."
Despite Smith's absence Esterer had to work hard to keep fellow McRae driver Steve Ross at bay in the Lady Wigram Trophy feature, the Canadian grabbing the early advantage but Ross clawing it back in the latter stages to eventually cross the finish line just over half a second behind with Tony Richards (Lola T332) third a further 10 seconds back and series young gun Andrew Higgins (Lola T400) fourth.
Having come close three years ago Esterer said winning this year's Lady Wigram Trophy race was extra sweet.
"It's fantastic," he said. The first time I did this event I thought I might be in with a chance but there was a downpour and I didn' have any wet weather tyres with me. This year I made sure I had the right tyres (wet as well as dry) with me and it all worked out."
Behind Esterer and Smith third was initially held by former Lady Wigram Trophy race winner Roger Williams but the Auckland man spun on the second lap. Former series champion Ian Clements also went off the track as he (successfully) managed to avoid Williams' car, leaving Tony Richards in a lonely third between Ross and Andrew Higgins.
Having lost three places on the first lap Aucklander Aaron Burson (McRae GM1) was the big mover in the middle of the pack, spending the best part of the race catching then trying to find a way past Brett Willis (Lola T330) and Sefton Gibb (Lola T332) to eventually cross the finish line back in fifth place.
"I just put my head day and picked them off one by one and I'm very, very happy, " he said. "A good way to finish the weekend."
Rotorua man Willis continued to claim sixth place in front of Blenheim driver Russell Greer (Lola T332) but Gibb pulled off the track with just two laps to go. Local man Stan Redmond (Lola T332) and Aaron Burson's father Peter (McRae GM1) also retired leaving Aucklander John MacKinlay (March 73 1/A) eighth and series newcomers David Arrowsmith (first Class A category driver home in his Lotus 70) and David Banks (Talon MR1) ninth and tenth respectively.
Banks was particularly happy with his debut weekend in the MSC category.
"I had a great time," he said, "It was fantastic. Dicing with David like that in the end was unbelievable."