One causes involuntary salivating in the mouths of petrol heads throughout Australasia. The other stirs emotions as the purists of the sport rekindle memories of days past. There are two distinct similarities between a V8 Supercar and a Formula...
One causes involuntary salivating in the mouths of petrol heads throughout Australasia. The other stirs emotions as the purists of the sport rekindle memories of days past. There are two distinct similarities between a V8 Supercar and a Formula 5000 single seater -- they both have a V8 engine, and both are to be treated with love. That is where the line is drawn, and 18-year old Porsche GT3 Cup driver Jono Lester was lucky enough to experience the best of both worlds at the Taupo Motorsport Park recently.
Terry Rush -- formerly of motorsport marquee giant Rush Hire, and a close family friend of the Lesters -- has only very recently acquired the beautifully restored Begg FM4 and felt the urge to give it a squirt around Taupo prior to Christmas. In its original Winfield colours with rich gold paint glistening for all to see, Jono couldn't help standing back in awe as the eight fully-exposed trumpets roared into tune and the car sped off into the distance.
"It was like nothing I'd ever seen before," Lester said excitedly. "I've watched these cars at Manfeild when I was a little tacker, but only now can I really appreciate just what masterpieces they actually are. The sound is just indescribable."
Jono had a brief knowledge of the FM4's history prior to his drive, which was a surprise sprung on him as the day drew to a close. A one-off model built by the legendary George Begg, the FM4 was Begg's first real attempt at building a proper Grand Prix car after spending time with Bruce McLaren in England. Described by former pilot David Oxton as 'a natural and calculated progression from the FM1 and FM2', the five litre V8-powered FM4's claim to fame came at the hands of Oxton with a New Zealand Gold Star Championship win in 1971/72. Oxton credits his introduction into the Formula 5000 class to the Begg FM4 and its pioneering designer/builder.
"It was the only way I was going to get into the [Formula 5000] category," Oxton remarked. "George needed a driver, and I needed a car, and we went from there. To win the Gold Star was George's aim, and in achieving that feat I picked up my first of those titles as well.
George had a simple philosophy when it came to his cars' development. It was to learn from the model preceding it, and while the FM4 utilised some of the parts and knowledge picked up from his time with Bruce McLaren, the FM4 was in turn used as the groundwork for the FM5 -- George's most modern and sophisticated model yet."
Lester circulated in the FM4 for a handful of laps around the 3.5km Taupo circuit, coming to grips with the first single seater he had driven since his Formula First and Formula Challenge days. The ear-to-ear grin on his face as he ejected the cockpit summed up the experience in an instant.
"Amazing, just amazing," he exclaimed. "To have such a piece of machinery in action 30-odd years ago is one thing, but what impresses me is how even today they are so highly respected for their speed and craft.
It's got real character -- that's what I loved about it. It was like another being; alive and with personality. I wouldn't call it a lazy car in terms of the handling, but it was certainly docile. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, which is a weird feeling when you consider the monstrous torque the 5000 has at its disposal!"
The opportunity for Lester to lap the same Taupo circuit in the Tasman Motorsport V8 Supercar ride car came along in a similar fashion, when the youngest worldwide Porsche Carerra Cup race winner was simply asked 'would you like a skid?'
The car itself was originally built by the Holden Racing Team as a VT Commodore and was campaigned by Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife in the Sandown and Bathurst endurance races. It was then purchased by kiwi hero Greg Murphy, updated to the newer VZ specifications and shipped across to New Zealand shores to assume its new position giving thrill seekers the ride of their lives. The car still conforms to race specifications other than being stroked to 5.7 litres to aid torque, and with a slightly restricted RPM band.
Clearly excited by the prospect, young Lester was strapped into a vehicle that differed greatly from the 2008 Porsche GT3 Cup Car he is used to, but even so he impressed team personnel by adapting his driving style immediately and putting in some competitive lap times.
"Jono is certainly one of the brightest stars in NZ's motorsport future and it was fantastic to be able to help give him this opportunity," Tasman Motorsport General Manager Andy Booth later commented. "He is mature beyond his years, and this certainly showed through in the way he approached his laps in the Supercar. Jono was fast; faster than expected and very consistent in his lap times.
As a New Zealand owned team, it's very valuable to Tasman Motorsport to be able to offer young kiwi talent like Jono Lester experiences like this, and after such an impressive first outing in a full blown Supercar Jono will certainly remain on Tasman's radar for the future."
And Jono's own thoughts on the drive?
"In a nutshell, it was a blast. It had amazing throttle response, and while I expected it to wallow and roll a lot more than the GT3, I was pleasantly surprised. It's certainly a car you have to be patient with -- there's no driving on the throttle like you can in something more nimble."
I'm really lucky to be given all these opportunities to drive some pretty sought after gear. I've got to extend a huge thanks to the Rush Family and also to Kevin Murphy, Andy Booth and Wayne Anderson. It's really humbling that these people have such confidence in me, so it's only fair that I repay them by doing the tidiest job I can."
Lester still admits that his heart lies with Porsche racing -- "it's got me where I am today, and is setting me up for the future" -- and with that the focus now turns to next weekend's A1GP spectacular at the Taupo Motorsport Park. After a successful team test with International Motorsport in the past week and in excess of 150 Blackwoods Paykels corporate guests ready to cheer him on at the A1GP, forecasts are indeed looking sunny for Jono Lester.