It was wet. It was freezing. It was blowing a howling gale. I couldn’t wipe the water off my gear fast enough to keep the lenses clean for any more than a few shots at a time. My $5 poncho looked like a dress, because the only way to keep it from blowing away was to cinch it in the middle with some tape I borrowed from a flag marshal. And yet, I was happy.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - 5 Litre Touring Cars Demonstration - Warm-up lap - Field shot 3

Why? Because I was shooting the Phillip Island Classic. The southern hemisphere’s largest classic car event, it features around 500 historic racers from around the world, and hosts it all at the country’s most picturesque circuit. And frankly, if you’re a petrolhead and all that doesn’t make you happy, perhaps a trip to the medical practitioner of your choice is in order.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Ian Buddery - 1986 Skoal Bandit March 86C - Turn 9 apex - profile pan 4

What made it all the better this year was the line-up. At the more modern end, you had 80’s-era turbo F1 machines going up against thundering F5000’s and even an 80’s Indycar…

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Terry Lawlor - GIO Group A R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R - Turn 2 exit - profile pan 6

… while no less than five E30 M3 Group A touring cars did battle with Sierra RS 500’s, Holden Commodores and R31 and R32 Skylines.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Andrew Cannon - Maserati 150S 250S - Lukey Heights descent - Profile pan 1

That’s before you got to the older machinery, too. Among my faves were the 1956 Maserati 250S, driven by Andrew Cannon…

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Louis Raper - 1949 Healey Silverstone - Turn 6 apex - front three-quarter pan 1

… Louis Raper’s 1949 Healey Silverstone…

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Brent Cooper - 1959 Mercedes 190SL - Turn 1 exit - profile pan 2

… and Brent Cooper’s 1959 190SL. All gorgeous machines, and only the tiniest fraction of what was on show.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Steve Webb - 1970 Elfin 360 Repco Brabham - Turn 1 apex - front three-quarter pan 3

That being said, the lack of many of the Can-Am and related sports cars from last year was a disappointment, as was the non-return of the Matra V12s, but given much of the blame apparently lies at the feet of the new turbo F1 engines, that’s to be forgiven. Specifically, the story told by the commentators was that, due to the teams not getting enough pre-season testing, they requested more track time at the GP and killed the full-on historic support race that drew many cars to compete at Phillip Island a week prior. There was still a historic race at the F1, but not serious like last year. Hopefully things will return to normal in 2015.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Ernie Nagamatsu - 1958 Buick Special - Old Yeller II - Turn 9 apex - front three-quarter pan 1

That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of compensations this year, though. In addition to the aforementioned vehicles, standouts for 2014 included a car I’m sure many American readers will recognise, Old Yeller II.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Ernie Nagamatsu - Old Yeller II - Dang Gurney Caroll Shelby driver names - Rear three-quarter pan 8

This almost Cobra-esque design is, for the uninitiated, the work of Max Balchowsky, a famous American mechanic and engineer, who worked his way through several cars before ending up with a crashed Dick Morgensen special in the 50s and modifying everything except the steering wheel and seat to make the first version of his most famous race car. Two of the more notable modifications included swapping the steel body for aluminium, and the addition of a 322 Buick V8, mated to a Jaguar gearbox. Indeed, adding either a Caddy or Buick V8 to any car was something of a Balchowsky trademark, and it seemed to work fairly well for him. For example, Old Yeller II, which was a completely new car built after the first one, won several races and placed highly in many others under some pretty famous names, even if mechanical issues cruelled hopes in the majority of events entered. The amazing thing was seeing current owner, Ernie Nagamatsu, drive it in damp conditions, as a big old V8 monster is hardly the car I would choose to drive in the wet, but thankfully Ernie is a better driver than me, and hearing it come around Phillip Island was a treat.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - 1971 Surtees F1 TS9B - Turn 3 approach - profile pan 1

Another great addition to the line-up was this Surtees TS9B, which proved at the very least that if you can’t succeed (this was sadly not Surtees’ most successful racer), at least look good doing it.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Jeff Dutton - 1974 Mark Donohue Porsche 911 IROC RSR - Pits - rear shot 12

Of course, if you’re talking looks and success, it’s hard to go past this beautiful IROC 911 RSR, the last car Mark Donohue won in before he was killed.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Jeff Dutton - 1974 Mark Donohue Porsche 911 IROC RSR - Turn 8 entry - front three-quarter pan 6

Now owned by Jeff Dutton, head of the Dutton car dealership dynasty, who also brought another very notable toy I will touch on in a second, this orange stunner sounded magnificent, as only an air-cooled 911 race engine can.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Pits - Joest Blaupunkt Porsche 962 - Front shot - doors up 2

As for the other Dutton machine of note? That would be this.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Pits - Joest Porsche 962 BBS wheel close-up shot 3

Easily the highlight for many people over the weekend, this Joest Racing/Blaupunkt 962 actually didn’t go that hard, but that may have had something to do with the fact that it was driver George Nakas’ first proper race car. As one person on my FB feed asked, where’s the upgrade from here?

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Frank Robinson - 1939 Ford Milthorpe Special - Turn 9 entry - profile pan 4

Focus on big name machines aside, the Friday I’m covering here (a second post will cover Sunday – I couldn’t attend Saturday due to another client booking) was all about practice and quali, so while no major spoils were on offer, drivers braved the weather and tried to get as much seat time as possible, as well as set themselves up for Saturday’s races.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Kim McCarthy - March Apache - Turn 8 - Spin - off-road - profile pan 1

Thankfully, the rain only hit the morning practice sessions, but even the relatively short burst of precipitation did catch a few people out. Kim McCarthy in regularity division one was the only driver who span in front of me, but plenty of sessions were red flagged early due to others succumbing to the conditions.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - David Brown - 1971 Datsun 1600 SSS - Mini Cooper S pair - Turn 8 apex - front three-quarter shot 3

Ah yes, those conditions. As I stated in the introduction, when it was raining hard, they weren’t great. Indeed I was amazed the majority of drivers even managed to keep it right-side up, especially those in rear-wheel drive cars like David Brown in his Datsun 1600 SSS.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Richard Davison - 1974 Lola T332 - Turn 9 apex - rear three-quarter pan 1

It must have been even more terrifying for those in massively powerful cars like F5000’s, which is probably why half the field in their class didn’t even bother heading out for practice. Those that did, such as Richard Davison (father of V8 Supercar driver Will) had previously demonstrated great skill in past races, so probably had less to fear.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Bob Pinkerton - 1955 Peugeot Special - Turn 9 entry - profile pan 3

As I said, though, for the most part, drivers survived, showing admirable skill and restraint.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Troy Stapleton - 1997 Shell Dick Johnson John Bowe Ford Falcon EL - Turn 9 entry - rear three-quarter pan 4

One driver that did not restrain themselves, though, was Troy Stapleton. In a truly impressive show, Troy flung his ex-Dick Johnson and John Bowe EL Ford Falcon around the circuit with complete abandon during the 5 Litre Touring Car Association’s lunchtime demonstration laps, seemingly not caring a jot about the weather. I’m even fairly certain he hung well back from the rest of the pack just to punch in faster laps. Big power, relatively small tyres and live axle rear suspension? Well done, that man.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Bill Hemming - Elfin Formula Junior - Peter Strauss - Repco Brabham - Turn 4 exit - front three-quarter pan 1

Eventually, the rain did clear, and with the track (and all of us trackside) drying out, quali laps could occur at full pace.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - John Bowe - Jaegermeister F1 - Turn 3 entry - rear three-quarter pan 1

And in the case of John Bowe, what pace! Driving a 1974 Jägermeister March 741 for owner Joe Calleja, he set a new class record at Phillip Island of 1.28.4698, which is only three tenths off Marc Marquez’s MotoGP record. Not bad for a 59 year-old bloke driving a forty year-old car. Then again, Bowe is a bit of a legend, and when your car has Hans Stuck’s name on the side, you probably can’t help but go fast.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Tom Tweedie - 1973 Chevron B24 28 - Turn 3 apex - profile pan 4

One point worth noting about this lap is that it was a full second faster than Tom Tweedie’s in his Chevron B24/28. Given Tom normally storms away from the entire field in every F5000 race here, it shows just how hard Bowe was pushing. Sadly, for both cars, this was about as hard as either would get to push all weekend, as both were pinged for minor noise infringements and ended up sitting the competitive days out. Bowe wrote an impassioned piece on the matter on his Facebook profile (scroll down a bit to March 10 to find it) and I have to say I agree with every word. When you have different rules for different people, and cars that end up infringing one year but not the previous, you have to wonder what’s going on.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Ian Ross - 1985 Beatrice Lola THL1-F1 - Turn 3 entry - front three-quarter pan 4

Anyway, controversy aside, the rest of quali proceeded smoothly. In Bowe and Tweedie’s group, while it certainly didn’t push hard, the ex-Alan Jones ‘Beatrice’ Lola THL1-F1 marked its presence thanks to its bright red paint and old-school turbo noise…

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Nick McDonald - 1960 Elva Courier overtaking Dick OKeefe 1959 Photon Special Lotus 11 - Turn 2 exit - profile pan 3

… while in other categories, you had a mix of dominance, such as Nick McDonald in his 1960 Elva Courier, which set a 2.00.0600 time, and people who were there more to have fun than anything else.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Ben Read - 1971 Mazda RX-2 - Turn 3 apex - rear three-quarter drift shot 1

I think you can guess which category Ben Read and his Mazda RX-2 fell into!

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Race-winning XY Ford Falcon GT - Turn 4 exit - front three-quarter pan 1

That’s the cool thing about historic racing in general, though. Even those who push hard are there to have fun as much as anything else. In a world of highly corporatised motorsport where the majority of athletes not dare utter a word out of place, historics offer a chance to step back in time to a less structured and less restrictive era.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Pits - 1958 Alfa Romeo 750 Giulietta Spider - Front three-quarter shot 3

An era when a lack of regulation meant you ended up with exquisite curves like this…

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - James Elphick - 1956 Gazelle Ford Special - Turn 2 exit - profile pan 1

… or this.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - John Douglas - Group C Mazda FB Mazda RX-7 - Turn 2 exit - flame - rear three-quarter pan 2

An era when the push for fuel efficiency didn’t exist, or if it did, only for a few years.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Rohan Hodges - 1968 Lotus Elan S4 FHC - Turn 1 apex - profile pan 2

An era when, despite that, you ended up with tiny, super light and fuel efficient cars that were gobs of fun.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Warwick McBean - Lotus 11 - Pits - mates working on car 1

An era when you could just turn up with your mates and relax, when endless discussions about what went wrong and why didn’t stress you out.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Pits - STP Group A Holden Commodore - Pit crew working profile shot 3

An era when cars had liveries like this.

Phillip Island Classic 2014 - Friday - Pits - Gregory Thornton - Thursdays 1975 March 75A - Rear three-quarter shot 1

Yup, you can see why historics have their appeal. Stay tuned for part two of coverage from the Phillip Island Classic in the coming days to see more beautiful machines do what they do best.