Beautiful is a subjective term. One person’s beauty is another’s abhorrent mess. Yet I don’t think you’ll find too many who suggest Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit is anything other than gorgeous. Even in the pouring rain, it’s still a sight to behold. But of course, nothing is nicer than a warm, sunny, cloudless day, so come Sunday, when I returned to the Island after a day shooting at a different location, it was great to find it bathed in golden sunshine. The crowds were out, everyone was smiling, and some serious fun, and racing, was to be had.
But first, some celebrity hunting. Not the horrendous paparazzi-style stuff, but just to get shots of a couple of legends. Firstly, touring car great John Bowe, who, having had his Jägermeister March 741 silenced by way of silly noise regulations on Friday, spent a lot of the day chatting with fans and on the phone.
And second, Sir Jack Brabham, event patron for 2014 and possibly one of the greatest people ever to live a life at speed. Three-time F1 World Champion; the only man to ever win an F1 driver’s world championship in a car with his name on the build plate; the only post-war motorsports athlete to be knighted, and possibly the only person ever to have built their first F1 car from a pile of tubing in the corner of the team garage when told his machine wasn’t ready yet. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to talk to him, but just to get this close to such a man was a pleasure.
I did, however, manage to get very close to his 1966 World Championship-winning Repco Brabham BT19. In the metal, it’s an incredible machine. The chromed trumpets are just so beautiful, as are the four-into-one exhausts on each side, and indeed the shape of the whole car. If ever there was a racer to prove the maxim, ‘If it looks right, it is right’, this is it.
I love how they’ve restored the whole car, but kept the leather on the steering wheel in what looks like original condition, too. Can you imagine the memories that wheel holds? Kinking up through Eau Rouge on the original 14km Spa circuit, or held firm against the vibrations of the Kaursel on its way to victory. Gives me goosebumps just writing it.
It wasn’t just Sir Jack’s F1 legacy on show, either. Fans could take a look at one of his ex-Indy 500 Coopers, machines that Brabham claimed started the mid-engined revolution in Indycar racing, as well as several others.
Heading out trackside, I encountered more legends, albeit ones of different provenance. For instance, this 1964 Cobra, owned by Old Yeller II pilot Ernie Nagamatsu, who was clearly not content with owning just one American racing legend.
He was quickly, and I mean really quickly, followed, then lapped, by Brit Andrew Newall in this unbelievable GT40 replica. Yes, replica. I had to check the actual build plate to tell it wasn’t the real thing. Given it runs a genuine GT40 race engine, though, it’s hardly a ‘knock-off’ and frankly, when something looks this good, sounds this good, and goes this fast, I don’t care about its origins.
Sadly, the GT40 didn’t appear as long as it should have after Ernie’s Cobra suffered a mechanical issue and had to be carried back to the pits, but thankfully it wasn’t terminal.
Just one race later, another set of legends appeared in the form of the Group A and C touring cars. Most notable of which was the HR31 piloted by a legend himself, ‘Gentleman’ Jim Richards. Like Mark Skaife last year, Richards actually drove this car back in the day, which makes it about as period correct as you can get. I have to think he was having enormous fun in it, too, even if he couldn’t see the sheets of flame that came from the RB engine every time he shifted down.
Richards was joined by Conrad Timms, who brought his immaculate ex-Emanuele Pirro E30 M3 over from his native New Zealand. Easily the best looking of the five M3s there, in my opinion, thanks to its Warsteiner livery and enormous BBS wheels, it sadly didn’t place that highly, but none of the E30s did, thanks largely to the fact that Phillip Island is such a high-speed circuit.
One Group A model that did challenge all weekend was the Sierra RS 500, which comes as no surprise, given its horsepower. What was a surprise, however, was the entry of this ‘Shimz’ variant, which used to race in Japan with Mauro Martini and Jeff Krosnoff, as far as I’m aware. How it ended up at Phillip Island I have no idea, and as is so often the case, I didn’t have the time to chat to the owner to find out more. Any readers know?
After a quick break, an entirely different breed of car came out to play. Groups J, K, Lb Sports, Racing and Invited Cars consisted of anything from the early 20th century right up to the mid-60s, which of course meant a huge breadth of machinery. I’ll touch on a couple of the more exotic machines later, but for now, I’ll just show you a few other notable points. First is David Reid’s Cooper T49-based 1959 Faux Pas (yes, I know), a legendary Aussie-built racer powered by a Holden ‘Grey’ engine linked to an MG TC box. This actually held the first ever lap record at Winton Raceway after the track was built. As you can see, it’s leading the Nick McDonald-driven Elva Courier I also showed in part one. The great thing is that these two battled it out all through race three, and while Reid took out this skirmish by about a second, McDonald took his revenge in race four, handily besting the field by more than 20 seconds.
The second standout was seeing this 1948 MG Patterson-Brydon TC Special, built in Australia and actually a second place-getter in the 1953 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. Stunning in shape, and in almost entirely original condition (save for the switch to an electronic fuel pump and distributor ignition), cars like these, with such great backstories, are one of the reasons historic racing is so great.
Another reason historics are awesome is the sense of joie de vivre you see expressed in so many of the machines. Thanks to a lack of any real regulation, you ended up with designs like this, the BMH Comic Book Special. Readers may remember it from last year, where again, it stood out for all the right reasons.
Thinking of joie de vivre, you certainly couldn’t accuse classic car racers of lacking a sense of humour, either. Taking shots of this beautiful Australian-made 1956 Vauxhall Special back in the pits, I noticed a curious driver and co-driver listing on the side.
Yup, couples that race together, stay together. (Possibly. It may accelerate divorce proceedings, too).
The Vauxhall wasn’t the only car to have a funny driver listing, either. Towards the end of the day, wandering through the paddock as racers were packing up, I noticed this little gem.
Indeed, in many respects, while the racing was great, the paddocks were the place to be all weekend. Not only could both media and spectators wander through all the garages and chat with the owners and drivers, you could also spend more time admiring the glorious forms of these classic racers.
In some cases, the paddocks were the only place you could see some cars, too, as various issues kept them off the track. In the case of this ex-Vic Elford McLaren M8E, I think that was one of the greatest shames of the weekend.
Strolling around the pits also let you see a few other little delights, such as possibly the only traffic jam of Formula Vee and Formula Ford racers I’ve ever seen.
Or the only Porsche 959 I’ve come across in Australia. It is hilarious how much bigger a recent 997 model is compared to its much older relative. Cars really have got a bit too large, in my opinion. Surely we can come up with safe cars that aren’t a whole class larger than they were 30 years ago.
Biggest shock of the weekend, though, had to go to this. Outside of a couple of motor shows both here and in Japan, I’ve never seen one of these, and to see it out in the open for anyone to look at? Marvellous.
Mmmm. Shiny. I suppose the only shame was how deeply the BMW V12 was buried, something I never realised looking at pictures. Kind of made it hard to admire all the engineers’ hard work, as all you could really see were the cam covers.
One last gem you could only see in the pits was the dummy grid. Here was the only time you were going to see all the cars in each group lined up to perfection, and when you’ve got cars like this? Well, you just have to take pictures.
Of course I snapped the 962 in the back as well.
Unfortunately, for safety reasons, only media were allowed this close to the racers just before they left on their warm-up laps, but the spectators were only a few steps away to the right, reinforcing just how good this event is for the average punter.
Returning to the on-track action, one of the main draws for spectators were the big open-wheelers, some of which you would have seen in part one.
Thanks to the removal of both John Bowe and Tom Tweedie, though, the field was left wide open, and in the end, Paul Zazryn in his 1974 Lola T332 took out both races.
A little further back lay one of the weekend’s surprise packets in Simon Gardiner’s 1978 Chevron B42. Given its Hart 2.0 litre four only pumped out about 250hp, this thing’s pace shocked plenty over the course of the meeting. It may have only placed seventh in race three, but the lap times told another story. With a best in that race of 1.34.727, it was almost exactly on a par with Zazryn’s much more powerful V8 monster. The fact it placed third in race four, after a ding-dong battle with Lucio Cesario in his much newer 1987 Ralt RT21 (pictured, being overtaken), was thus no surprise.
Further down the field on both occasions, but still looking great irrespective, came Gregory Thornton in his Thursdays March 75A. Another very famous livery that I hadn’t seen before in the metal, it was a reminder (not that any were needed) of how great some of these older colour schemes looked.
With so much to cover, I couldn’t hang around, but before I zipped off to other parts of the circuit, I had to catch Don Thallon’s amazing 1967 Corvette Stingray racer, which took second in race three and won race four of the Groups Sa & Sb Sports & Invited Cars category. Chevy really got it right with this iteration of the Stingray, and that 5.3 litre V8 noise was glorious.
Being an ex-UK resident with a thing for TVR’s, I also snapped off a few shots of Laurie Burton’s 1969 Tuscan before dashing off, too.
Come lunchtime, the traditional parade laps took place, and prior to the 5 Litre Touring Cars we saw Friday, a large number of Holden Toranas came out to play for a lap or two. Amongst them, this brilliant collection of ex-racers. Looking as tough as this, you can understand why so many Aussies hold these cars dear.
The Torana theme continued off the track, too, at the show-and-shine display area. I love how the Holden guys set up such a good-looking display of XU-1 GTRs each year.
Of course, the Ford brigade had their own little collection as well.
One particularly eye-grabbing shape sat next to the Bolwell stand. This early 70s Nagari showed off its lovely lines, accentuated by the truly 70s green exterior colour. For those who might not be aware, Bolwell was a small Australian sports car manufacturer that ceased production in 1979, but one that made a number of models during its life. Most were FR designs like the Nagari, powered by everything from Volkswagen 1600CC fours to Ford V8s (as is the case in the car above) but the MKVI came in an MR configuration, powered by a Holden V6. The company still exists in name, offering a mid-engined sports car again called the Nagari, but most of the Bolwell company’s efforts these days focus on large-scale design and engineering projects, such as making composite fairings for Kenworth and Iveco trucks.
Lunchtime entertainment and exploration over, racing started again with the M & O Sports Racing and Invited class. Mostly single seaters and small capacity sports cars from the 60s, probably the most famous entrant was the 1969 AAR Gurney Eagle T2G. Out here in Australia, seeing just one Indycar is a thrill, but seeing modern and classic versions at one meet? Exquisite.
This class also illustrated just how low some of these cars are. One can almost imagine the drivers having a chuckle at today’s ‘slammed’ street cars, because very few will be as low as entrants like this 1962 Brabham BT2.
Returning to an earlier promise, I mentioned I would show a couple of the more exotic cars from the Groups J, K, Lb Sports, Racing and Invited Cars group, and luckily, I got two of the most exotic in one image. Paddins Dowling in his 1939 Maserati 4CL, one of only 17 made, and Bob Harborow in his blue 1946 Maybach Special Mark 1. Despite their value, neither driver held back, either.
Another vehicle in that class that took my eye right from the start of the day was this Australian-made 1936 Supercharged Armstrong Siddeley, which just looked gorgeous with its thick black paint glinting in the bright sunlight. As you may imagine for a vehicle of its age, even with a supercharger it never challenged for the high places, but then historic meetings aren’t all about podiums.
Shifting back to slightly more modern times, the later afternoon races brought the sports cars out, followed by the Group A and C touring cars. In both the morning and afternoon events, Jay Bondini in his Argo JM 19C set some fairly decent times, and ran second in each race, but even this ex-Group C endurance racer couldn’t keep up with the winning machine.
Which, amazingly, was this Ralt RT2, piloted by Jamie Larner. As you can probably tell, this is essentially a re-bodied open wheeler, which kind of explains its pace, but even enclosed wheels and the better aero that brings can surely not make up the entirety of its speed gap to the Argo. Remember this is running a two-litre NA engine, as opposed to the Argo’s 3.9 litre V8 donk. The Ralt probably has quite a weight advantage, though.
As for the other Group C car? Despite it being his first ever racing machine, George Nakas piloted the Blaupunkt 962 to seventh in race three and a pretty handy fourth in race four. Clearly, with a bit more seat time, George will be taking podiums and hopefully wins in this legendary piece of equipment.
While I rued the lack of Can-Am cars this year, at least we did get an Australian equivalent I hadn’t seen before, too; Trevor Lambert’s Repco Elfin ME5. Originally built to run in Australian Group A races, this category was, for all intents and purposes, the same as Can-Am, with very few regulations and even McLaren Can-Am cars participating. And while the ME5 was a relatively lonely V8 rumble in the sports car field, it certainly added lots of presence and showed plenty of speed, coming fourth and seventh in races three and four respectively.
Come the Group A and C touring cars, Terry Lawlor’s R32 GT-R showed just why Godzilla stamped such authority on the category back in its heyday. Winning races three and four, Lawlor only ever saw competition from within the Nissan stable for the most part, with Jim Richards taking second behind him in race three and Carey McMahon in the HR31 taking third in race four behind Bryan Sala in an RS 500.
For a while in race four, both McMahon and Richards looked like taking the fight to the newer car, but a lock-up for McMahon coming into Siberia and a rare spin for Richards shortly after put both out of the running for the win.
Towards the back of the pack, Adrian Brady also wowed crowds with his JPS 635 CSI…
… while the Aussie contingent was represented by a number of Holden Commodores and this lovely XD ‘tank’ Ford Falcon.
Finishing off the day’s racing, crowds enjoyed the sub-3 litre Historic Touring Cars as they pounded around the circuit. As you can see, this category saw quite the varied entry list, with everything from little 2002s to EH Holdens to BRE-liveried Datsun 1600s, like the maroon example above.
Probably the most special, though, was the Jägermeister-liveried Alfa GTAM, shipped over from the UK by Roz Shaw. Originally found in very poor condition in Denmark, Roz stripped it back, replaced half the chassis with new panels and completely replaced or refurbished the rest of the car. Shaw reckons it’s the only Alfa running the original ETCC Jägermeister colours today and while it wasn’t super quick, you can understand his reticence to push it hard on an unfamiliar track.
After that, all that was left was a wander back through the pits to scope out any final shots. Yet again revealing the levity classic car owners tend to display, this American Beck 550 was clearly all about reminding everyone of its mixed heritage…
… and of course I couldn’t resist a final look at that gorgeous UK-built GT40 replica.
I’m going to finish with a shot of this much more modern car, though – the very special Garry Rogers Motorsport 2003 Holden Monaro 427C. It’s famous as the last car to take Peter Brock to victory at a Bathurst endurance event, the 24 hour (which is now the 12 hour), alongside co-drivers Greg Murphy, Jason Bright and Todd Kelly, all either former or current V8 Supercar drivers. It’s also infamous as the only car in its class in the defunct Australian Nations Cup Championship to be allowed to run an engine larger than stock, with the 5.3 litre (347 cubic inch) V8 replaced with a 427 crate engine. Given its extensive modifications in all other areas, too, it’s no wonder it was faster than a period V8 Supercar.
It’s that history that makes me want to finish up with this car. While it did nothing more than a demo run on the day, it’s still living proof that amazing cars always generate amazing stories, and in the future, these will be classics, too. Long may the stories continue.