Tributes paid to Smith ahead of 50th NZGP start

Ken Smith will make his 50th start in the New Zealand Grand Prix picture: Tayler Burke

Shane van Gisbergen, Andre Heimgartner, and Greg Murphy have paid tribute to Ken Smith ahead of his 50th start in the New Zealand Grand Prix.

The three-time New Zealand Grand Prix winner brings up 63 consecutive seasons of racing this year, culminating in his 50th start in the iconic event.

Smith’s career has traversed multiple formulae, his first start coming in 1965 driving a 1.5-litre Lotus 22 in the Tasman Series era.

He continued to race through Formula 5000, Formula Pacific, Formula Atlantic, Formula Brabham, Formula Holden, Formula Ford, and throughout the current Toyota Racing Series era.

Smith’s wins have come 14 years apart, his first in 1976 driving a Lola T332 (Formula 5000), his second in 1990 with a Swift DB4 (Formula Pacific), and his most recent in 2004 driving a Van Diemen Stealth (Formula Ford).

Red Bull Ampol Racing driver van Gisbergen owns the Formula Ford that Smith won the New Zealand Grand Prix in.

That later became van Gisbergen’s car he raced in the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship.

“Like everyone on this table, and like so many others in pit lane, he was a huge influence for me as well,” said van Gisbergen.

“When I was just starting to get into circuit racing, he won the New Zealand Grand Prix.

“I see a replica of that Formula Ford sitting down there [in pit lane]. I’ve got the real one.

“We’re planning to restore it, dad and I, to my colours; but maybe it would be cool to have some panels in Kenny’s colours as well because that’s what he won the Grand Prix in.

“It was cool to get that car and him help us buy it and settle in and do the set-ups on it. He was a huge influence back then.

“Even now, seeing how enthused he is and a big smile on his face, he might not be as competitive as what he used to be, but how energetic he is, it gives me hope as well.”

The New Zealand Motor Cup will be awarded at this weekend’s New Zealand Grand Prix

Four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Murphy said he felt privileged to race alongside Smith in the 66th running of the New Zealand Grand Prix.

Murphy won the race in 1994 and 1995 in the Formula Brabham era.

“He’s an inspiration to all of us,” said Murphy.

“He’s an inspiration to anyone that’s had any sort of part to play in motorsport in this country.

“He’s helped so many of us along the way, being really a big part in mentoring so many drivers and supporting so many drivers.

“It’s a great celebration really for someone in New Zealand who epitomises what a legend and an icon of something is. That’s what Ken is to us.

“We’re all privileged through the negativity of COVID to actually be here this weekend to participate.”

Kelly Grove Racing driver Heimgartner makes his New Zealand Grand Prix debut this weekend at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.

The 25-year-old said Smith’s longevity in the sport was admirable.

“It’s pretty awesome really,” said Heimgartner.

“Some of my grandparents when they were 79 or 80 they could hardly get out of a chair.

“He did the jump test and he was bloody quicker than most of us young blokes. Then he’s like, ‘Jeez, I’ve torn my bloody shoulder’.

“It’s pretty amazing that he’s kept on going and I want to know what health regime he’s on because to be that old and to be in that good shape is really amazing.

“To have that desire still I think is the main thing. He obviously has a tremendous love for the sport.

“Just being around him this weekend in the same team is pretty cool to feed off that and see what he does and how he does it.”

This year’s 28-lap New Zealand Grand Prix gets underway at 17:22 local time (15:22 AEDT).

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