Phillip Island Classic

Over 550 cars of all significance entered the 2009 Classic, although entries from overseas were down on recent previous years. However, the quality of cars continues to build. Highlights of individual grid’s included the record 50 Formula Ford’s (including a large contingent from the UK), a near 30 car field of Groups C & A Touring cars, and a ground shattering field of sports racing cars.

All promised to be an action-packed weekend – event off the track with the support of Shannons in the newly formed Expo shed on the outside of the main straight & improved luxury hospitality hosted by other sponsors including the VACC.

After four previous solid years of good weather the weekend was somewhat dampened (okay – drenched!) by the massive rain showers, and there were plenty of them.

This provided for some exciting racing, but before that let’s talk Friday practice and qualifying. The Regularity Div 2 was first event out. Many competitors seemed to lack track time, or may be brushing off the summer cobwebs of lack of motorsport and chose to spin, which ended up in the red flag – yes a red flag in the first event of the weekend! I mus admit I was one of those spinners, but I can honestly claim that it was due to high tyre pressures, which was a rectified situation in the afternoon event.

Those in attendance on the Friday witnessed the Australian debut of the Mercedes Sauber C9 – a car that holds the fastest speed record a Le Mans on the Mulsanne Straight (1989 at 410kph). Rob Sherrard purchased the car in early 2008, had it completely re-built and now competes regularly in FIA spec Group C races overseas, and the Australian crowd was privileged to have the car here – and the sight, sound and driving style by Rob were a highlight of the Friday, and on the occasions the car went out across the weekend.

The second highlight of Friday in the high speed stakes was the appearance of the three Sydney based mid-eighties Formula One cars – Ferrari 156/85, Benneton and Beatrice Lola. For those who witnessed the crash at Eastern Creek early 2008 when Les Wright dramatically changed the shape of the Bennaton when vying for the lead through turn one with Belgiorno-Nettis’ Ferrari it was a pleasure to see what Australian engineering can do to re-build a car, which shattered many (considered to be) unrepairable parts – including the gearbox housing. Les qualified the Benneton in second, but made it back to the pits slowly when a blade off the Turbo sheered off in the final stages of qualifying – which was later found to cause serious internal damage to the engine. It seems, unfortunately spectators will have to wait for some time until the car re-appears.

To Saturday, and what a day in the history of Phillip Island Classic to be remembered. A large crowd waited in anticipation for the Formula Ford race – the first race of the event, and one with some 50 small and quick open-wheelers promised to provide many great races within the race. In the race were people like John Smith, former Australian Formula Ford Champion & Tim Blanchard, who has recently won the British Formula Ford Championship and now has and F3 ride. But it was the upcoming Tom Tweediee who stole the show from the outset, streaking away to a win, well ahead of the remaining 49 or so competitors, bemused by the skill of this young driver.

Group S was next out. This race was red flagged twice – once in the dry and the second in the rain. The Phillip Island circuit is so smooth except for one place at the end of the exit from Siberia where there is a series of bumps, which are more frustrating than hazardous in the dry, but one imagines (all Div 2 regularity events where in dry conditions) hazardous in the wet. This was shown in the absolute downpour in the re-start of the Group S race, which severely affected the weekend. Tony Jones became victim to the circuit at this point tumble rolling his Porsche 911 and ending up upside down in a nearby ditch. Fortunately, Tony is okay, but the car a tad second hand.

This incident put a halt to all racing, which lasted for 2 and a half hours until just after one – as the rain poured and poured leaving huge puddles of water on sections of the main straight, and indeed around the corners.

The day ended up with all competitors getting one event instead of the two scheduled, but nothing could be helped with that. Group C & A action also provided a highlight with a new force at the front – enter the BMW M3. David Towe is now quite competitive in his ex.JPS M3. Although meeting Patron Glenn Seton gave him stiff competition slipping in a faultless guest drive in a similar M3, whilst Bill Cutler made a sensational debut to the Group A ranks with his M3 – making it an M3 full podium in the first race.

Simon Taylor (Editor at Large of MotorSport Magazine) returned to the Island this year, along with his Stovebolt HWM Special. He also returned as Guest Speaker at the Gala dinner Saturday night – a night to be remembered, but not for the dinner, but for the truly terrible weather conditions outside. Absolute down pour and heavy winds caused significant damage to numerous marquees, many of which have joined in as unwanted features of Bass Strait, and damaged race cars in the lifted and shifted marquee in the Group N area of the green paddock (which is now a 1/3 bitumen! To this, we are all grateful of the enormous financial spend the LinFox group has spent thus far on improvements at the track.

Laurie Bennett proved he is a very versatile driver on Saturday when he accepted an invitation to drive Englishman John Bladen’s McLaren M1A sports car. Starting from the rear of the field Bennett quickly made his impression in a car, which is in the same field as his Elfin 600B, but so much different with engine size and bodywork being the most apparent. Richard Carter, however, saw no competition at the pointy end so had a terrific dice with the like 600B’s of Bob Cracknell and Herb Neal. Bennett took him by surprise as he stormed through the field in the sports car leaving everything in his wake, including Carter in a near photo finish.

Sunday morning saw Bennett back in his own car, but the challenge remained as he had to fight through the grid once again. This time though, Carter knew his friendly rival was back in his familiar car and a threat. Still Bennett drove the wheels off the forty year old car, but this time the photo finish went to Carter… by 0.008 seconds! The final M & O sports car race saw this dice continue, as did the rain, which changed the scene immensely when Carter came victim to aqua-plaining – as he was racing alongside Bennett for the lead at full pace along the main straight, hitting a pool of water that sent him in a series of 360 spins, finally coming to a halt at the 200 metre braking marker – but this didn’t stop Carter who continued on, re-claiming second place and putting in a solid finish. Tim Kutchel from SA didn’t have the same luck as Carter as his aqua-plain sent him too close to the concrete wall as he ended him doing some damage to the Brabham. News through the pits on the weekend was that Andrew Fellowes (whose Group P car was invited to join the M & O grid) has sold one of the Rondel Racing BT36’s overseas, splitting up the two cars that he spent tireless time getting back together a few years back. But don’t be to worried, the ex. Tim Schenken car has been swapped for a BT23, which will be on track later this year.

Report by: Charles Rogers / HRA

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