Shannons Phillip Island Historics – March 7-9
By Richard Batchelor

The annual Phillip Island historic meeting lived up to its reputation as Australia’s best celebration of its type. For the first time the meeting was held over three days, with Friday devoted to practice in the morning and qualifying during the afternoon. The practice sessions were slightly marred by a couple of showers, but the track was dry for qualifying and there was hardly a cloud to be seen for the rest of the weekend.

A highlight was the 80th AGP anniversary celebration on the Saturday, which saw around 80 cars parade on the old 10 kilometre Phillip Island road circuit, which was used prior to the Second World War. Among those taking part was a re-creation of Capt. Arthur Waite’s 1928 race winning Austin 7 and the Bugatti T37 which Bill Thompson drove in the first official AGP in 1929. Other great cars demonstrated during the weekend included the Porsche 917/30 from the company’s museum, the Alfa Romeo P3 which won the 1934 Monaco GP, a Bugatti T39, the ex-Stan Jones Maybach Special (driven by leading UK motor sports journalist Simon Taylor), Peter Harburg’s glorious Ferrari Monza, Russell Kempnich’s Porsche 956C and German Hans Kleissl’s Mercedes 300SL gullwing, driven by former Le Mans winner Vern Schuppan.

Whilst every race category has its keen followers, unquestionably the most popular is the Formula 5000 and Invited Cars category, which featured 28 starters – more than most F5000 races achieved in period. When these thundering beasts take to the track, other competitors and pit crews join the throng of spectators on top of the pit building, while on the other side of the main straight, spectators were several deep at the fence. Quick Kiwi Chris Hyde in his McRae GM1 dominated qualifying, recording an outstanding 1:30.73, well clear of the redoubtable Andrew Robson (Lola T332) at 1:33.19 and Guido Belgiorno-Nettis in his beautiful ex-Alboreto 1.5 litre turbocharged Ferrari 156/85 (1:35.01). The Ferrari was not the only ex-F1 car in the field as Ian Ross was giving his ex-Alan Jones 1.5 litre turbo Lola-Hart an outing, resplendent in its Beatrice colours. Ross qualified 18th in 1:44.19, in the large field. Hyde’s pole position must have pleased Kiwi former F5000 ace Graeme McRae, who built the car and who was present.

With eighteen F5000 cars entered from New Zealand, our scenic Pacific neighbour continues to be the F5000 capital of the world, but a Kiwi mechanic I spoke to in the pits was quick to scotch a scurrilous rumour that they were building new cars for the category! Hyde went on to dominate all the F5000 races during the weekend, chased hard by Robson. Behind them, the pecking order was fluid, with battles between Kiwi Tony Richards (Lola T332), Englishman Peter Dunn (March 73A), Belgiorno-Nettis in the Ferrari, Stuart Lush (McRae GM1) and former V8 Supercar race winner, and Patron of the Meeting, John Bowe in an ex-Costanzo/Hamilton Lola T430. By Race 4 the order had settled as follows:- Hyde, Robson, Belgiorno-Nettis, Richards, Lush and Bowe, after some of the best open wheeler racing seen for years. Fittingly, Chris Hyde set the fastest lap (Race 4), an outstanding 1:30.12.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Formula Junior and a large field of both front and rear engined examples was present, including entries from Great Britain, the USA and New Zealand. Locals Peter Strauss (Brabham BT6) and Jonathan Williamson (Lotus 22) set the qualifying pace in 1:58.55 and 1:58.60 respectively, followed by another BT6 driven by American Ned Spieker (I:59.43). In Race 1, Strauss, Williamson and Spieker finished in that order, followed by Speed-on-Tweed supremo Roger Ealand (Lotus 18) and Elfin Museum proprietor Bill Hemming (in an Elfin, naturally!). Saturday’s Race 2 saw Strauss win again, followed by the improving Spieker, Williamson, Queenslander Don Thallon (MRC 22 Ford) and the consistent Ealand. Race 3 on Sunday was much the same, Strauss winning from Williamson, Spieker, Thallon, Ealand and Hemming. In the final event, Strauss cleaned up yet again, from Williamson, Spieker, Thallon, John Rapley (Brabham BT2) and David Reid (Cooper T59). Of the 38 qualifiers, 28 completed Sunday’s final race.

A high quality field contested the Groups Q & R Sports races. Jamie Larner (Ralt 2.0 litres) set the qualifying pace, recording a best of 1:36.96 to take pole from Rusty French (Porsche 935) in 1:39.47 and Russell Kempnich (Porsche 956C) in 1:39.77. Larner went on to win Race 1 from French, followed by John Briggs (VesKanda), Steve Webb (Elfin 360 Repco), Paul Stubber (Lola GT1), Kempnich and Peter Harburg (Lola 610). In Race 2, Briggs prevailed in the spectacular VesKanda, from Larner, Stubber, Webb, Kempnich, Harburg, French, and Paul Mander in the second 2 litre car (Tiga SC81). Sunday saw Briggs win again in Race 3, recording the category’s fastest lap for the weekend of 1:32.61 – very rapid indeed! He was followed by Larner, Webb, Kempnich, Harburg, Stubber and Dean Hanger, second best of the two litre cars (Tiga Sports 2000). Race 4 again saw Larner back on the top step of the podium after humbling the larger-engined cars, followed by Webb, Briggs, Kempnich, Harburg, Trevor Lambert (Elfin ME5), Stubber and Andrew McCarthy, second in the two litre category in his Lola T594.

Group S (pre-1978 Production Sports Cars) was another popular category, with a full entry list of 50 cars and another eight or so reserves. In fact only 48 fronted up for qualifying, with Sydney’s Bill Pye on pole in 1:53.62 in his Porsche 911 from Queenslander Don Thallon’s Corvette (1:54.02), South Australian Peter Hall’s very rapid Datsun 240Z (1:55.20) and Stan Adler’s Porsche Carrera (1:55.76). Pye, Adler and Thallon finished in that order in Race 1, with Adler recording the fastest race lap for the weekend of 1:52.71. At the other end of the field, Judith Dorrell from NSW in a 998cc Austin-Healey Sprite was competing in the true spirit of historic racing, a smile never leaving her face all weekend. Race 2 saw a surprise winner in Terry Lawlor from NSW (Porsche 911) from Hall’s Datsun and Bill Pye, the latter surviving some spirited attention from Adler, who ended his race in the gravel trap. In Race 3, Lawlor again prevailed from Pye and Hall, followed by Brian Taylor (911), Michael Byrne (Lotus 7), Phil Verwoert (RS Carrera) and a more subdued Adler, who nevertheless recorded fastest lap. Race 4 was won by Pye from Lawlor, Hall, Adler, Taylor, Byrne and Verwoert, to complete a clean sweep for the Stuttgart machines, after having their colours lowered at last November’s Sandown meeting by the big vee-eights. With three Ferraris in the field, including Trevor Bassett’s magnificent 365 GTC4, Healeys, Corvettes, a de Tomaso, Shelbys, Morgans, Mercedes, MGs, Alfas and even (ahem!) a BMW coupe, Group S continues to provide great variety and close racing.

Groups J, K, &Lb, Sports, Racing drew an extraordinary number of classic Aussie specials, ranging from the tiny 1935 Sulman Singer to hairy V8 Ford racers. In the silk department we had Peter Giddings from the USA in the Alfa Romeo T3 and David Hands from GB in the T39 Bugatti, a Cooper-Bristol driven by Wayne Gibson from GB, Hans Kleissl from Germany in his 300SL gullwing and Dean Butler from GB in his American Bocar V8. Space does not permit an analysis of divisional results, but Nick McDonald had the Ausca on pole in 1:58.08, from John Virgo’s Riley Special (2:02.40) and David Reid (Prad Repco Holden) in 2:02.98.

With such a time buffer in qualifying, it was no surprise to see McDonald clear out to win all three scratch races comfortably, recording the category’s fastest lap in Race 1 of 1:55.54. David Reid chased McDonald home in Race 1, followed by Mick Arnold (Sharp Holden), Giddings in the P3, Graeme Marks (Mac Healey) and Geoffrey McInnes (Riley Special). In Race 2 we saw the same first three place getters, with Samantha Dymond fourth in her Lola Mark 1, ahead of Marks, McInnes, Gibson in the Cooper-Bristol and Kleissl in the 300SL. Just to liven things up, Race 3 comprised a handicap, won by Charles Knill-Jones (Bugatti T39), from Thomas Benson (BMH Special) and Frank Cuttell (Sulman singer). Race 4 was again won by McDonald, from Reid, Arnold, Trevor Booth (Nota Sunbeam), Gibson and Dymond.

Another crowd pleasing category is Group Nb and Nc Touring Cars. In the over three litre category, Darren Pearce put his Mustang on pole with a 1:52.02 qualifier, from Scott Slater (Torana GTR-XU1) in 1:52.73 and evergreen John Mann (Mustang) in 1:52.97. Pearce won Race 1 from the Camaros of Darren Collins and Ron Moller, followed by Slater in the XU1 and the Mustangs of Darrel Hansen and John Mann. This quartet dominated Race 2, followed by Alf Bargwanna (XU1), John Harrison (XU1), and Michael Hibbert (Charger). Another close battle ensued in Race 3, won again by Pearce from Moller, Collins, V8 Supercar enduro ace Glenn Seton (Capri), Slater and Simon Phillips (XU1). We had to wait until the final race for a changing of the guard, with Moller coming through to win in his Camaro, also recording the fastest race lap for the weekend of 1:50.04. Pearce was second, followed by Seton, Collins, Phillips, Slater and Ray Challis (XU1).

In the Nb and Nc under 3 litre category, Greg Malaure took pole in his Cooper S in 1:57.39, from Ben Read (Mazda RX2) in 1:58.12 and Paul Cruse (Ford Escort) in 1:58.86. Malaure took Race 1 from Chris Smith (Alfa), Read, Cruse, Kirk Davis (RX2) and Mark Johnson (911). Smith prevailed in Race 2 from Malaure, Read, Cruse, Johnson and Garry Edwards (BMW 2002). A very serious start line shunt occurred in Race 3, destroying three cars and I understand causing injuries to drivers (see below). In the final race, Malaure continued on his winning way, from Cruse, Johnson, Davies, Errol Stratford (Escort) and Jason Armstrong (Cooper S).

I did not see the start line collision mentioned above, but I saw a similar accident in the Groups A & C event the previous year, which resulted in two destroyed cars and drivers needing hospital treatment. I was also in a Group S race last year at the Island, which was started (unbelievably) with a car immobilized at the front of the grid. Fortunately everybody managed to miss it. Perhaps rolling starts should be tried in big crowded fields, before somebody gets killed.

On a happier note, let’s turn to M & O Sports & Racing. The field comprised a variety of small sports cars and open wheelers from the sixties, plus some heavy metal in the form of Max Warwick’s 4.8 litre McLaren M1A and Keith Berryman’s 4.7 litre Matich SR3. The 1.6 litre Elfin 600B Formula 2 cars of Richard Carter, Laurie Bennett and Herb Neal dominated qualifying, with Carter well clear on 1:41.72 from Bennett 1:44.14 and Neal 1:44.72. Eleventh fastest was the familiar figure of John Bowe, at 1:47.97 in a Brabham BT14. Carter failed to finish Race 1, which was taken by Bennett from Neal and Ray Stubber (Brabham BT29). They were followed by Max Brunninghausen in his lovely Chevron B8 sports, Calven Bonney (Macon MR1) and Tim Kuchel (Brabham BT18). In Race 2 the order was Carter, Bennett, Stubber, Neal, Kuchel and Murray Sinclair (Chevron B16). Come Sunday and Carter again dominated, winning both races 3 and 4. In Race 3 he was followed home by Bennett, Neal, Stubbber, Bonney and Sinclair. The final event saw another easy victory for Carter, followed by Stubber, Bennett, Neal, Brunninghausen and Sinclair. Carter’s best lap during Race 2 of 1:39.53 was the fastest for the category during the weekend, but interestingly Ray Stubber also recorded a very fast 1:39.81 in his drive to second place in the last race. These are seriously quick times for 40 year old cars.

Space does not permit a detailed discussion on the Regularity events but the machinery was superb and, in case anybody thinks they were lapping slowly, it should be noted that fourteen Division 2 Regularity competitors qualified faster than the two slowest F5000 runners!

Finally we had the relatively new category of Groups A & C Touring Cars, bringing together race cars from the exciting and varied era prior to V8 Supercars. On pole after qualifying was Rod Markland in the Nissan GT-R on 1:47.28, followed by Robert Tweedie’s Ford Sierra RS500 (1:47.86) and Michael West’s Commodore (1:48.30). Race 1 was dominated by Tweedie from Markland and David Holc (Holden VL), followed by Gary Collins (Holden VC), Norman Mogg (Holden VL) and Roger Townshend in his glorious Ford RS 2600 Cologne. Race 2 saw the same first three finishers, followed by Townshend, Mogg and Mike Roddy in the Jaguar XJS. In Race 3 it was again Tweedie, Markland and Holc dominating, with Tweedie setting fastest race lap for the weekend of 1:46.04. Townshend, Neville Butler (Mustang) and Roddy were next to finish. Godzilla came into its own in the final race, helped by Tweedie’s Sierra failing to greet the starter. Markland cleared away to win from the consistent Holc, Townshend, Butler, Roddy and Collins, leaving many spectators misty eyed at the memories of great Bathurst races in the past.

As one of the 500 or so competitors, I would like to thank the Victorian Mini Club, the VHRR, Shannons and the large number of officials and administrators who helped conduct this outstanding meeting.