WHO WAS THE KING OF WELLINGTON?

Jim Richards leads Peter Brock, Emanuele Pirro and the rest into Turn 1 in the 1990 race. Pic: Wellington City Council Archive

FOR the best part of a decade, the Wellington 500 was the jewel in the crown of New Zealand motorsport, and one of the most coveted touring car trophies in the Southern Hemisphere.

But its decline and ultimate demise in the mid-1990s means it’s become a somewhat overlooked chapter of touring car history, with its winners not given the spotlight they deserve.

The Wellington event has now been immortalised in a new book, written by Kiwi Richard McGee, and available through the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.

Titled ‘The Wellington Street Races: The Definitive History of New Zealand’s Iconic Motorsport Event’, the book chronicles each year’s event, featuring stunning images and full results.

Each year from its inception in 1985, the Wellington 500 attracted some of the world’s top touring car drivers and teams – a concept made possible by the international Group A rules.

That included being part of the World Touring Car Championship in November 1987 – a year in which the event was actually run twice, having also taken place in January!

The Eggenberger Ford Sierra of Klaus Ludwig/Klaus Niedzwiedz that had been second at Bathurst before disqualification won the Wellington WTCC round, in a star-studded 42-car field.

Brock and Moffat won two in a row at Wellington. Pic: Wellington City Council Archive

That ended a two-event winning streak for Peter Brock and co-driver Allan Moffat, who had shared Holden Dealer Team VK Commodores to victory in 1986 and the January ’87 event.

The true King of Wellington though proved to be Italian Emanuele Pirro who, with three different co-drivers, won four-straight 500s from 1988-91 aboard factory-backed Schnitzer BMW E30s.

Pirro, who contested 40 Formula 1 races over that period for Benetton and BMS Scuderia Italia, mastered the tricky Wellington streets, and also tamed the Macau touring car race in 1991 and ’92.

From left: Pirro, Johnny Cecotto and Peter Brock’s co-driver Andrew Miedecke on the podium in 1990. Pic: Wellington City Council Archive

His Wellington streak came to an end in 1992 when the E30 he shared with Joachim Winkelhock was struck down by engine trouble.

That was Pirro’s last Wellington appearance; BMW scaled back its involvement as the event shifted from Group A to a mixed Super Touring/production car field on a revised circuit the following year.

The BMW factory onslaught returned for 1994 but without Pirro as he had switched allegiances to Audi, with which he went on to win the Le Mans 24 Hours five times between 2000 and ’07.

Pirro behind the wheel in 1990. Pic: Wellington City Council Archive

By that time the 500 format at Wellington was dead anyway – in 1994 it was replaced by two shorter races, won by international BMW aces Winkelhock and Tim Harvey.

Wellington would only get one last blast – a three-race non-championship event contested by 12 V8 Supercars in 1996 – where local hero Greg Murphy was very much the star.

He was outscored by John Bowe across the weekend, but won the finale in spectacular fashion, sealing the two-event Mobil Series in the process.

Murphy leading Bowe in 1996. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Honour roll: The Wellington race winners

1985 – Michel Delcourt/Robbie Francevic – Volvo 240T

1986 – Peter Brock/Allan Moffat – Holden VK Commodore SS Group A

1987 Jan. – Peter Brock/Allan Moffat – Holden VK Commodore SS Group A

1987 Nov. – Klaus Ludwig/Klaus Niedzwiedz – Ford Sierra RS500

1988 – Emanuele Pirro/Roberto Ravaglia – BMW E30

1989 – Emanuele Pirro/Roberto Ravaglia – BMW E30

1990 – Emanuele Pirro/Johnny Cecotto – BMW E30

1991 – Emanuele Pirro/Joachim Winkelhock – BMW E30 Evolution

1992 – Tony Longhurst/Paul Morris – BMW E30 Evolution

1993 – Owen Evans/Bruno Eichmann – Porsche 911 RS Cup

1994 – Race 1 – Joachim Winkelhock – BMW 318i

1994 – Race 2 – Tim Harvey – BMW 318i

1996 – John Bowe – Ford Falcon EF