First national titles for local race car stars

Despite their name, the cars are only Corvettes in the sense that the bodies are moulded to the distinctive Chevrolet design.

Tom Roberts gained his title after only five seasons of racing.

Scott Lansdowne got his racing start at the Wellsford racing track.

Puhoi’s Scott Lansdowne and Warkworth’s Tom Roberts earned their first national racing titles at the New Zealand Saloon Racing Championships at the Huntly International Speedway last month.

Lansdowne came second with a fastest lap time of 15.36 seconds while Roberts came third with 15.83 seconds.

The pair have spent the season chasing each other around the track at speedways all the way from Invercargill to Auckland.

The national championship is raced across two days, with drivers accumulating points that earn them a ranking. The ranking is used to determine their starting place in the final race.

Roberts was in second position at the starting line for the final, while Lansdowne was in fourth.

“Scott’s lucky I let him pass me,” Roberts jokes.

Both say their blood starts pumping from the moment they step on the track and nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of racing.

“Speedway in general is very intense because there are so many cars within millimetres of each other going as fast they can,” Roberts says.

“Afterwards it feels as if you’ve had a workout, because even with power steering a bump in the track can just about rip the steering wheel out of your hand.”

After having an incident-free race, Lansdowne slid across the finish line only to crash directly into a wall.

He says it was worth it to be able to have a national title decal printed on the side of his car for next year.

Their saloon Corvettes are 500 horsepower with 350 cubic inch (5.7 litre) engines.

“It’s a lot of power, but it’s never enough. You’re still always trying to push your foot through the floor,” Roberts says.

The Corvettes sport a full fibreglass body and steel tube chassis and each weigh 1100kg, less than a typical road car, which weighs 1500-1800kg. The cars are completely custom-built with parts ordered from the United States.

Lansdowne and Roberts have been driving race cars for 27 years and six years respectively, formerly racing on Wellsford and Whangateau tracks.

They say it is saddening that the racing tracks in north Rodney have closed, and it’s time the sport was revived.

“The clubs closed down because people complained about the noise levels, but these days cars have mufflers to bring noise down to regulation decibels,” Roberts says.

An intact track built in a disused quarry on land owned by the Council in Whangateau still exists. The current leaseholders have recently moved to a new location, leaving questions as to whether it may again become available.

Roberts and Lansdowne will next compete at the Auckland Saloon racing championships, at Waikaraka park on April 25, to take their shot at holding two titles in one season.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it without our amazing sponsors and pit crew, as well as our families, who allow us to compete in this very demanding sport,” Roberts says.