VETERAN racing driver Kenny Smith has a new lease of life as he prepares for the return of the Tasman Express New Zealand Grand Prix in December - thanks to a "bit of a re-charge" from heart surgeons. The double GP winner has just had...
VETERAN racing driver Kenny Smith has a new lease of life as he prepares for the return of the Tasman Express New Zealand Grand Prix in December - thanks to a "bit of a re-charge" from heart surgeons.
The double GP winner has just had an angiogram - his 57th birthday present to himself - to open up heart arteries that had begun to close up, 11 years after he had a triple heart bypass operation.
And now, boasting a new sharpness to his reflexes, the Aucklander is backing himself for top-five finishes at the wheel of his 270km/h Formula Holden in the December 6 NZGP in Christchurch and a leadup meeting at Invercargill a week earlier.
"I feel great. This is going to let me get fitter," says Smith, explaining that he drove last summer's Formula Ford championship season "with the edge taken off me. I was driving half unfit.
"I started feeling like I was losing more fitness and sharpness in the last few months so I decided I needed a bit of a re-charge."
Being in good shape is a must for extracting the best out of one of the 340 horsepower Formula Holden single-seaters racing cars and Smith now believes he can be competitive, despite having done little driving in his Reynard since the Grand Prix was last run here in 1995.
But he discounts much chance of winning - "not while Scott Dixon's around, put it that way."
The young Kiwi - who Smith has helped to victories in the 1996/'97 NZ Formula Ford Championship and this year's Holden Australian Drivers' Championship Gold Star Series - is now "very good: You wait till you see him here.
"He's got to be odds-on to win here. Certainly I'd say none of the Australian young guns are going to beat him."
"Still you're going to have four or five good young guys running at the front. And, if anyone is going to give Scott a hurry-up it'll be Todd Kelly." Like Dixon, he's also just 18. He finished second in the Australian series this year.
Behind Dixon and Kelly, Smith picks other Australian series front-runners Mark Noske, Darren Edwards and Kiwi Simon Wills as contenders here - with Smith somewhere in that group, he hopes: "The days have gone when you could come out for one or two races a year and expect to do well.
"These guys are at it all the time - and there's no doubt about it: They take risks.
"So that group is going to be pretty tough to beat."
Interest in the Teretonga and Ruapuna Formula Holden meetings is running high here and in Australia, with indications that more than the guaranteed 15 cars will be shipped here by NZ Grand Prix sponsor Tasman Express.
The NZ lineup for the races is likely to run to eight or nine drivers, according to Smith - the list headed by Australian series regulars Dixon and Wills.
In addition to the owners of seven NZ-based Formula Holdens, Smith tips that several Kiwis will buy drives in Australian-owned cars for the two South Island meetings.