Series History

The Beginning

The Series roots go back to 1986. Donn White of Tauranga started a series for BMC 4 cylinder cars, raced over four North Island circuits – Taupo, Manfeild, Pukekohe and the now defunct, Bay Park, in Tauranga.

The series gradually gained in popularity, attracting Minis, MG Midgets, MGBs and the late Jim Chrystall’s Wolseley 1500 (albeit with a larger engine), and had a format of two points races per meeting.   Traditionally, the first race was a scratch race – naturally enough, fought out by the faster cars; the second was a handicap, but regardless of the results, the overall series was normally won by one of the quicker cars.

Around 1994, TACCOC had a series for Classic British Sports & GTs, (the Gasoline Alley series) with fairly low key rules and a bonus point system which was biased towards old, wire wheeled, wooden framed, British Racing Green, non trailered cars, with less than oil tight engines and not running on Japanese tyres or spark plugs….  The series ran for a couple of years but folded when there was a change of TACCOC club policy.

At the end of the 1995/96 season, after unfortunate dispute regarding the series leader running a different car at the last round, a formal complaint by one of the drivers and a threat of legal action, Donn White stood down as the convenor, having decided that he was not prepared to continue – the hassle created by those events reflected an attitude to the sport which he would not support . That left the BMC series with a small group of drivers but no series convenor.

Ray Green – the first (and second) expansion and a new philosophy

Ray Green was asked by Derek Prior, a former MGCC (Auckland) President, to take over running the series. So, in 1996, the series restarted, under a new team – Ray Green, Derek Prior, and Kerry Bowman with some support from Paul Reynolds as driver’s rep

A quick head count (the number of drivers remaining  was fewer than 10!) showed that the series was not viable as it was. An immediate decision was made to expand the catchment to include all British Leyland cars, with the 4 cylinder rule also relaxed. As a result the Series expanded to include larger saloons like Jaguars and Rovers and sports cars like Austin Healey, TR6, TR7 V8, MGB V8.

The Series ran under the new rules for only one year. Ray Green thought that rules which resulted in the fastest car always winning classic events designed for a mixed bag of cars were inconsistent with the true  philosophy of classic racing.  As a result, he changed the points format to two handicap races only, with the intention that any well-driven car would stand a chance of winning.  The decision did not meet with universal approval. The previous complainant, who was an equal points winner in that season, rejected the changes and left the Series, taking the BMC trophy.  Happily, the trophy was returned several years later and remains the oldest trophy which the Series awards today.

Ray Green was frustrated that, when the old TACCOC sports car series folded, he had nowhere to race his own British GT, a Marcos. After consultation with Chris Watson, the leading light behind the old TACCOC series, and now a key figure in HRC (Historic Racing Club), the Series expanded to include other British Sports and GT cars so, for the 1997/8 season, marques such as Marcos, Morgan, Lotus, TVR and Reliant, were added to the list of potential runners. Ray then had somewhere to race again.

Detailed series rules were drawn up, in consultation with the sport’s governing body – Motorsport New Zealand, with the intention of becoming a sanctioned series. Although the decision was eventually made not to became a sanctioned series,  the process provided the basis for the current rules. All subsequent changes has been to deal with issues as they arose.

Handicapping – the key to the Series

With the previously thin fields much expanded, the series started to take on the character for which it has become so well known.  Ray’s considerable talents were brought to bear on a handicapping system of staggering complexity, based in Excel. The Series commitment to handicap racing is one of its most striking features.  Ray’s philosophy was that the theoretical aim of good handicapping was to have all cars across the finish line at the same time. With that aim,  the winner could come from anywhere.

In truth, the theoretical aim is unachievable in practice.  It is easier to hold position than to gain a place, especially when cars are fairly evenly matched for lap times, with some handling well and others offering better acceleration and top speed. Overtaking cars which are overtaking other cars can result in delays in passing and the odd yellow flag at the only overtaking point on a circuit can delay a pass for a full lap. Breakages and driver errors often affect surrounding cars.

The use of historical lap times aims to prevent a driver ‘sandbagging’ by going slower in practice or the non–point scratch race that precedes the two handicap races.  The accessibility of those historical lap times is also a major help when the weather improves – which is not at all unusual in NZ. The ratio of historical to current times for that weekend is easily adjustable but there is still pressure on the handicapper to take all factors into consideration.  No handicapping system is perfect, but in classic racing, the emphasis is on enjoyment, a philosophy that is a core value of the ERC series.   

With that in mind, although the system produces an initial handicapping guide, based on an adjustable mix of current and historical times, a certain amount of massaging is essential for practical success.  For example, the starter can only safely work in blocks of 5 seconds, which gives drivers just enough time to roll forward and stop before the flag drop.

Handicapping allows the Series to accept a wide variety of cars, old and newer, with big and small engines and with varying attributes of straight line speed and handling which all have a fair chance of winning. A win usually requires a series of near perfect laps and the pressure remains on all drivers from the first flag drop to the chequered flag.

Speed Bars

In the interests of maintaining a reasonably safe environment for the slower cars, it was decided early on that it would be better if much faster cars raced in other race groups.  However, a few drivers with V8 and V12 powered cars, such as Harley Norager (MGB V8)  Mark Parsons (TR7 V8) and Andy Turpin (XJS Jaguar), who were running road registered cars on small budgets, preferred to run in the series. The price of doing so was confronting a speed bar at each circuit.

The speed bar at the 2.8km Pukekohe circuit was originally set at 1:12.  The speed bar time was arrived at by studying the fastest times of the current drivers.  Any driver going faster than the speed bar was subjected to a stop/go penalty – provided the timekeepers were able to pick the time up and  communicate it to the Clerk of the Course.

The first time the speed bar was successfully applied was at Manfeild, when Harley Norager scorched through from the back of the grid, and was penalised, much to the chagrin of the commentator, who wasn’t aware of the rule!  When Harley roared out again in hot pursuit, the large and enthusiastic crowd were cheering him on, willing him to get to the front.  He didn’t quite manage it, as there was a massive traffic jam on the last lap with cars three and four abreast all over the circuit!

The experience confirmed that the series had a winning formula; it remained unchanged  until the start of the 2004/2005 season, which heralded yet another new structure.  The bar was lowered to 1:10 at Pukekohe when too many cars were breaking out, and black flagging all of them was getting to be too difficult.

Two Classes … And Another Change

As the series grew in popularity, it became too large for a single grid so it was split into two groups – Sports and GTs in groups 1, saloons in group 2.  Large speed differentials between fastest and slowest in each group meant that, at most circuits, the faster cars in each group had to start from the pit lane. The decision was made, from the beginning of the 2004/05 season , that the cars should be grouped by lap time (rather than body type), with a speed bar of 1:15  for the slower group, and 1:08 for the faster group (both at the original Pukekohe track).

Retro Classics, Replicas & CoD’s

The very successful Targa New Zealand tarmac rally, initiated by Mike John, produced  a large variety of cars, some of which were classics with classic engine transplants.  Most prominent of these was Jonathon Hills with his Rover V8 powered Triumph Herald Coupe, a real crowd pleaser.  Jo wanted to race the car too, and along with several other Targa competitors, applied to join our series.  Those running genuine classics had no problem. Although the series had an authoritarian governance model, all existing drivers were asked if these cars could run; there was overwhelming support for their inclusion, so the rules were rewritten to allow a limited number of retro classics.

During this period, there were proposals that all cars racing at classic race meetings should have a Certificate of Description (CoD).  Initially this was optional, then at a MSNZ conference, it was made compulsory, then optional, then compulsory again!  After much reflection, the Series opted not to make CoDs compulsory. It encourages cars to get a CoD but decided that the Series would be stronger if it remained more flexible about the cars it could accept, especially as handicapping keeps competition fair without the need to monitor car development closely. Pure historic racing series, like Historic Saloon Cars, later emerged and cater for purist historic racing, with the Series providing a non-purist alternative, mixing pre-1978 cars with more modern cars, all subject to handicapping.

TACCOC already had a rule barring classics with engine transplants and also replicas, even if that replica was a faithful copy of the original, such as Rogan Hampson’s Ohlsen FIA Cobra.  TACCOC’s rule excluding either the Cobra or the Triumph created a difficulty for the Series. When TACCOC decided to make CoDs compulsory for all entrants at their meetings, the Series had to find other events. The TACCOC rounds were replaced by meetings organised by the Historic Racing Club (HRC), Club Lotus and Auckland Car Club.

After TACCOC relaxed the rule about compulsory CoDs, the Series resumed racing at TACCOC meetings and still does so today.

AES – Auckland Engineering Supplies

After ten years of sponsorship support from Geoff Bonham’s Leisuretime Spa & Pool Covers, Geoff had  a minor health hiccup and decided to retire from racing his MGB GT (which Ray Green later bought). One of the drivers, Mike Petersen, persuaded a long time friend, Stephen Harris, to support the series through his  company, AES. The sponsorship previously provided by Leisuretime was taken over by AES.

After Stephen’s tragic death in April 2016, AES continued its sponsorship of the slower class. The Series re-named the trophy for the slower class the Stephen Harris Memorial Trophy.

Historic Racing Club

As Derek Prior and Ray Green were both members of MGCC, the series originally ran under their auspices. When the Series ran its own race meetings, MGCC were allocated a share of the meeting profits, in return for the club’s manpower support.  With the rise of F5000 racing, instigated by HRC, the Series usual late January Pukekohe booking was handed over to HRC.  MGCC had ceased to provide manpower to run race meetings, and agreed to the Series switching to run under the auspices of HRC from 2009. It continues to do so today.

Arrow Wheels

A series for CoD vehicles only, which raced mainly at TACCOC and HRC meetings and was sponsored by Arrow Wheels, was run by Derek Atkinson (Morgan V8).

Several Series drivers, whose cars had a COD, also raced in that series, getting additional racing (without a speed bar). It also provided a place for cars deemed too fast for the ERC Series. It had fairly good grids but series races were usually fought out between the two fastest cars –  “Racing Ray” Williams Porsche Turbo and Bruce Manon’s rapid Ford Escort.  Waiting in the wings were Derek’s Morgan V8, the Turpin Jaguar XJS, John Honore’s Ferrari  and Greg Sutton’s Datsun 240Z. With the exception of the Turbo Porsche and Derek’s Morgan, all these drivers had been moved on from the ERC Series for being too fast.  The series also had one or two later model BMW saloons which had then been thought too new for the ERC Series.

At the end of the 2008/2009 season, Derek Atkinson stood down from organising the Arrow Wheels Series and, as no replacement was found, the series folded.  At that time, the faster ERC class had been sponsored for many years by Tracer. That came to an end as Greg Bellingham sold out of Tracer.  Arrow Wheels transferred its sponsorship to the ERC Series. What had been called the Tracer class became the Arrow Wheels class and the old Arrow series drivers joined that class under the ERC banner.

For  the 2009/2010 season, the ERC Series incorporated the cars from the previous Arrow Wheels Series, who would otherwise have no races in which to compete. The move, combined with the opening of the Hampton Downs track, heralded a further stage in the Series development and the season closed with a massive 134 paid up drivers.

A New Convenor After 20 Years

During the 2015-2016 season, the Series 30th season, Ray Green decided to step down as convenor after 20 years in the role. After 20 years growing the Series from 10 drivers to over 100 each season, he needed to find a replacement to keep the Series going. He persuaded Chris Browne, who had raced an Alfasud in the Series for over 10 years and who had been a former Chair of the Alfa Romeo Trofeo Series, to take over as convenor from the beginning of the 2016-2017 season. The Series remains under his leadership. He shares Ray’s belief in handicap racing as a competition equaliser which allows the Series flexibility to accept a variety of cars and to the importance of maintaining grid sizes for successful competition.

More Rule Changes

Since taking over from Ray, Chris made a few changes. Speed bars had become difficult to manage and had forced the fastest Arrow Wheels class cars to run lap timers. After reducing the speed bar at Hampton Downs from 1.12 to 1.11, the decision was made the following season to drop it entirely and make lap times a matter affecting suitability to remain in the ERC Series, which remains a pure invitation series.

The Series has also been more open to accepting more modern European cars that can race well with the pre-1978 cars for which the Series has always catered. Models such as the Porsche 944, Peugeot 205 and 206 GTI, Mercedes 190, Audi RS2 and Alfa GT came into the Series and the number of women drivers also increased – there were 6 women Series members in 2018-2019.

The arrival of other series meant that the ERC Series did not sustain the 134 members that it had in 2010. Nevertheless, it has maintained its annual membership at around 100 members since then. Despite those membership numbers, race entries have diminished a little in season 33 and, for the 2019-2020 season 34, the Series will experiment with a return to a single grid at some of the meetings, pairing with the Trofeo Series to race on one of the two days at those meetings.