Leitch spends time behind wheel of F1 car

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 20 Jan 2018 | Latest News
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Inspecting Tony Quinn’s 1995 Simtek Formula 1 car at Invercargill’s Teretonga Park are (from left) Leitch Motorsport and Restoration owner Barry Leitch, his employee John Mackley and client Jeff Leask. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Very few people get the opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car, so Cromwell- based Damon Leitch is counting himself lucky to have been offered the chance to get behind the wheel of one.

His parents Barry and Marguerite Leitch, who own Invercargill's Leitch Motorsport and Restoration, had the 1995 Simtek Formula 1 car in their workshop for the past three months after it was purchased by Highlands Motorsport Park's owner Tony Quinn.

Last month, it was ready for testing but Quinn was unavailable and asked Leitch, who recently began working at Highlands as the go-kart manager and track driver, to run it in for him.

For two Fridays in December, Leitch's ears rang with the shrill sound of a Ford Cosworth V8 as it powered the F1 car - once driven by Italian Domenico Schiattarelli in the F1 World Championship - around the 2.64km Teretonga Park track, near Invercargill.

‘‘It was pretty amazing. I couldn't believe how fast the acceleration was compared to anything I have ever driven,'' Leitch said.

Originally from Invercargill, Leitch was at least at home on the track and as a top performer over many seasons in the Toyota Racing Series, it didn't take him long to feel comfortable in the unfamiliar car.

His father had rebuilt the Simtek's ‘‘absolutely blown-up gearbox'', which proved a challenge as parts are no longer made for it, Barry said. Instead, he contracted a Nelson company to make them from scratch and fitted them into the 23-year- old F1 car.

The initial test went well, although the car was not geared correctly to the shorter straights that it will run on in New Zealand and was on old tyres.

After another week at Leitch Motorsport and Restoration the Simtek returned to the circuit on the Friday prior to Christmas and with Leitch back at the wheel the car looked a whole lot more comfortable as the lap times tumbled.

‘‘It was awesome. I'm pretty lucky to get a chance to get to do something like that,'' Leitch said.

His brother Brendon, who also works at Highlands, will race in the first round of the Toyota Racing Series at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna this weekend, before the series heads to Teretonga next weekend.

Quinn drove the Simtek at the Legends of Bathurst Festival at Hampton Downs, near Hamilton, last weekend. Otago fans will have to wait until April to see it in action at the Highlands Festival of Speed.