A late warm autumn meant one of two things in the lead up to the annual Histo ric Winton meeting on the fourth weekend of May – either a break in the weather & a wet weekend, or sunshine. A little bit from each boat eventuated with down pours during Friday practice, a fine Saturday, then a torrential down pour over night on Sunday morning at the track around 4:00am, but a sunny and overcast type day for race day on Sunday.
Although some grid numbers were down on previous events, the overall entry numbers for the cars were received at 265, 21 more than the 2004 event. So the late May pilgrimage to Winton Motor Raceway for the old car movement is still strong.
Saturday morning and the circuit is covered in a dense fog, the sun trying its best to burn it off. At 8L30am you could start to see across the track, but not completely to the top end, but by 9:00am and the first of the Regularity cars on track the fog had lifted.
The scribe took the opportunity to devote Saturday morning to a wander around the vast pit area. The pit area extends from the original pits down to the long track pit lane garages, which are occupied mainly by very fit competitors that enjoy a lot of walking exercise!
Among the first cars seen along pit lane was Alan Telfer’s 1926 Bugatti T37/35B down from Queensland. This is the 10 Pound Bugatti (worth a little more than that these days!) as it was sold back in the 1950s for this sum from a yard in NSW, less engine, then fitted at that time with the straight-8 Type 35B engine.
For those Bugatti enthusiasts it would be the only straight-8 we would here this year with George Hetrel a late withdrawal from the meeting in his 1927 Bugatti T35C. When completing final preparations for the car prior to loading on the trailer it was discovered that a self-lubricating bolt had cracked. Unfortunately, you can’t simply go to your local auto store to purchase a replacement. George, not having another suitable car in his garage to swap chose to bring along his Aston Martin Lagonda for the drive.
Spotted Bill Hemming topping up the fuel tank in his 1963 Elfin Mallala with a recycled 5-litre oil bottle. The Mallala is the most recent acquisition to his Elfin Heritage Centre stable, a light and nimble car powered by its mid-mounted Ford twin-cam engine.
There’s a new garage complex in the pit area with heaps of room inside, but the budget obviously didn’t extend far enough in its build to tarmac the road either side leading up to it.
In here the scribe stumbled on the well-presented 1983 RALT RT4 of Andrew McCarthy. The car is fresh after a non-scheduled re-build courtesy of a crash at the Historic Winton meeting in 2012 when collided with competitor, Kim Jones’ 1980 March 80A. the car has a new tub and various new engine & engine accessory parts. Interestingly, the car is now level as it was found that the found was previously 20mm higher than the back!
Caught up with Stuart Steinfort, who was carrying out final preparations to his 1934 MG PA in readiness for the Group J & K races, and Conor Ryan, youngest competitor at the meeting in Regularity Two in the family’s 1962 Daimler SP250. John Boble was there hoping that the MG TA he shares with owner Patrick Ryan would be in one piece at the end of the weekend.
Across the way from their garages was the car port of another Queenslander, Don Thallon. The scribe last had the opportunity to spend time with the Thallon’s at the Pau Historique in 2013 where Don was competing in this 1962 Ford MRC 22 Formula Junior. With wife Jeanette on the injured list the scribe’s arrival was just in time as Don wanted something to do and decided it would be changing the battery. It’s a two person job to remove the front bodywork, which encompasses the cockpit from the vehicle.
Decided to wander past the carport of Greg Smith (1953 MG Holden Monoposto) as his car had just returned from the track under tow and it didn’t look good. Turned out that piston number six decided to part ways with its rod in the Holden motor, ending his weekend.
Racing commenced in the afternoon with Formula Ford out first. David Hardman put Norm Falkner’s ex. John Bowe 1970 Elfin 600 on pole position with Nick Bennett alongside in his 1988 Van Dieman RF88 (ex. Gil de Ferran). The stage was set for the battle of the oldest FF and the newest FF in the field for the weekend’s three races.
John Connelly (1988 Van Dieman RF88) and Anthony Mann (1986 Van Dieman RF86) occupied the second row at the start with Connelly getting the jump on all and taking an early lead. This wasn’t to last long once he retired on lap 4.
Rob McConville (1970 Brabham BT29) registered the fastest lap in qualifying for the first of the Groups M & O Sports-Racing & Racing car race taking pole position ahead of Keith Simpson (1965 Brabham BT14/16), Laurie Bennett (2970 Elfin 600B) and Paul Orr (1967 Austin Special).
By turn one McConville was back in third with Simpson the early leader from Bennett, but it was Bennett who soon overtook the Brabham of Simpson to claim the lead, then the race win. Peter Strauss came home in fifth in the ex. Bib Stillwell 1964 Brabham BT11 (car that took Stillwell to the 1965 Tasman Series & Gold Star Championship wins) ahead of Will Waker (1963 Lotus 7) and Peter Larner, driving Frank Hook’s 1865 Cooper T76.
Groups Lb Sports & Racing (for 1940s & ‘50s cars) fielded one of the largest grids for the weekend with just under forty starters. Bob Schapel from South Australia would be the class of the field in the two scratch races in his super quick 1947 MG TC Special taking pole and two race wins.
Mal Ried qualified seventh in his Prad Mk3, further down the pack than we’d normally see, but Shane Bowden qualified on the front row in the later Prad 5 sports car. Graeme Marks (Mac-Healey) and Dick O’Keefe (Proton) would be the early challengers. Sam Dymond (Lola Mk1) and Max Pegram (Gemini Mk3) both managing to overtake O’Keefe and finishing in third and forth respectively.
Brian Simpson was the big mover in that race in one of Fred Greneklee’s two Coopers, the 1965 Cooper JAP Mk9 starting in twenty-third place following clutch issues before finishing up in ninth. Simpson said later that they had fitted a Norton clutch, but had linkage issues with this, so put back the Cyclopse clutch for the weekend. Mick Arnold also picked up six places in the 1955 Sharp Holden (now owned and usually raced by Grant Craft) to finish eleventh.
A smaller field of cars took part in the Groups Q & R Sports & Racing car field, which was next up. Ken Bedggood took pole position in his 1983 Cheetah Mk 8 1.2 seconds clear of his nearest rival, Kim Jones from Albury in his 1980 March 80A. Geoff Calvert (1981 RALT RT4) and Bruin Beasley (1980 March 80A) shared the second row for the start.
After starting back in seventh place, Andrew McCarthy (1983 RALT RT4) carved his way past three cars in front of him, including Kim Jones to finish an excellent third. Justin McClintock (1983 Galloway Sports) was relegated from 5th to 7th.
Following the second division of Regularity we saw the Groups J & K cars take to the track. It was an all Ford V8 from row following qualifying with Peter Wilson taking pole ahead of Jim Russell. David Stewart (Dodge Special) and Gerard Miller (Plymouth Special) made it an all South Australian second row.
With Wilson in a commanding lead, we were shocked to see him pull off to the paddock area on lap 4, handing the lead to Russell, who made his return to track racing following the 2013 crash at Historic Winton to claim a victory on his return to the grid. Patrick Ryan started the race in sixth position in his supercharged 1936 MG TA Monoposto to put in a spirited drive to finish on the podium in third behind Stewart.
Group N Production Touring Cars then made their way out on to the grid. The Mini has a great track record at Winton, a circuit that is the real leveller of performance versus size and weight. So, it was a Mini, Jason Armstrong’s 1964 Morris Cooper ‘S’ that claimed pole in an interstate front row with Darryl Hansen’s 1969 Ford Mustang Fastback from Western Australia in second.
The Mini got off to a good start, but the race was red flagged after the commentators put the mozzle (the scribe mostly) on Phil Barrow (1955 Holden FJ) who was hit in the rear around the turn three-four sweeper and beached himself in a dangerous position there.
With the cars gridding up again (including Barrow, who after being retrieved from the bog was able to re-start) and after a warm-up lap the Australian flag was dropped for the second time.
A couple of Minis about mid pack thought that could make turn one five cars wide, but were proved wrong – the race was red flagged for the second time, and then declared a non-race shortly after.
It was on to Group S, Production Sports Cars for the final race of Saturday. Under darkening conditions with sun-setting sunglasses were removed and headlights put on. Mike Bryne (1975 Lotus Super 7 S4) beat the European and North American competition to put the twin-cam Lotus engine sports car on pole ahead of Sven Burchartz’s 1975 Porsche Carrera. Troy Ryan from South Australia put his super quick 1972 Austin-Healey Sprite on third spot ahead of Rohan Little’s 1974 Porsche Carrera.
Burchartz got past Bryne and went on to take a well-deserved win with Ryan and Little close behind.
A torrential downpour early Sunday morning (while most were still asleep) washed away the fog, and as morning broke so did the sun and a mostly sunny day for the main race day ensued.
The scribe took the opportunity in the morning with four more commentators arriving to go trackside for photo taking for a few of the morning’s races following the first two races (Formula Ford & Groups M & O races).
Formula Ford saw another terrific dice between Hardman and Bennett resulting in a nail-biting finish. The Group M & O race saw Keith Simpson stomp home to win the Phil Irving race ahead of Bennett (Snr) with Orr in third.
Trackside viewing for the following race was from turns one to two. The race was the first of the handicap races, this one for Group Lb sports and racing. It is thought that Winton short track is perhaps quite a hard track for a handicapper to get the calculations right as the speed differential and passing move opportunities are quite minimal.
The event, the Coad Memorial Trophy saw Peter Lubrano from NSW take home a good win in his MG TC Special ahead of Richard Townley’s ex Brydon/Patterson MG TC. First of the hard chargers was Mal Reid (Prad Mk3) finishing in eigth.
Next out were the quick cars with the second race for Groups Q & R. While Bedggood was on pole position, Calvert got the jump at the start in his RALT RT4 taking the race lead at turn one with McCarthy in third. Jones took over from McCarthy on lap three, the four finishing the race in that order.
We saw Andrew Makin back on track in his March 73A following a total re-build (and return to its original colour scheme). Makin finished fifth in that race.
Next car event up was Regularity Two, this time seeing some competitive driving from many competitors including the fearsome hot-rod looking Ford Roadster of Nick Crocitti (#53).
Continuing the Ford V8 era of the Aussie built special the next event was brought out for the early Group J & K cars. It was first time out this weekend for Jim Russell following a re-build of his Ford V8 Special following an accident at last year’s event. Well, he got a win in the second race! It was all Ford at the front with Miller (Plymouth) and Stewart (Dodge) taking out the other podium places.
After an extensive engine re-build it was pleasing to see the rare Talbot Darracq Grand Prix car back out again in the hands of Noel Cunningham. Cunningham finished sixteenth.
Historic Winton traditionally celebrates a number of milestones in motoring with lunchtime parades on the Sunday. Sadly, this year also paid tribute to the recently deceased Harry Firth & Sir Jack Brabham.
The scribe was busy note taking in the commentary box while Don Kinsey & Brian Reed were reminiscing on the lives of these two great men across the air-waves.
With Firth (The Fox)sadly passing away on 27 April 2014 they spoke about his win at Bathurst 500 in 1963 in a Ford Cortina GT with Bob Jane, his days at HDT, but interestingly also his Army service during World War II. For Firth were a despatch rider and mechanic in the Middle East. They made it known that we all saw Harry’s cantankerous and bad-tempered personality was due to this wartime. He used to wake up with nightmares from this era of his life, sleeping with a 9mm Beretta under his pillow.
Sir Jack passed away at 6:00am on 19 May 2014. He left us as he felt best, in charge of things. Lady Margaret had taken in breakfast to him just after 4:00am (early start as Monday was a dialyses day for his Kidney treatments), he started eating while Lady Margaret left the room. When she came back to take the breakfast tray away, he was gone. What a way to go.
On the track we then saw a parade, albeit one lap of the Brabham racing cars competing at the vent. They reminisced on this great man. It was led by the Brabham BT11A Climax of Peter Strauss, Brabham BT29 of Robert McConville and the Brabham BT6 FJs of Ian Henderson and Tony Simmons. Representing the Cooper history was the Cooper T76 of Peter Larner.
Leaving Australia in the mid-1950s Sir Jack became a works driver for the Cooper team in Formula One. He was pivotal in the team’s development to a rear-engine car, taking the 1959 & 1960 World Championships in these. Most notably was he first World Championship victory, which he scored by pushing his Cooper (after running out of fuel on the final lap) to fourth place, but enough points to take out the championship.
He is also credited amongst the first to take a re-engine car to the Indy 500 race in the USA, then a truly hallmark event. This was the Brabham BT12, a one-off car, The Formula One regulations were to change for the 1966 season and in preparation of this, as Reed says; “he researched this fairly carefully searching the world for a suitable engine block, a lightweight American Buick block”. Going on to say “I guess one thing which convinced him to go with that was Repco would develop the engine, and that he could buy the Buick block for just 11 quid each!”. He thought being nimble and light it would be very reliable against the powerful engines of Ferrari, Lotus and alike. Sir Jack was always after a bargain, and this surely was the most successful one.
Kinsey then moved the direction of the conversation to discuss Sir Jack’s philanthropic and charitable works. “He was Patron of the Macular Disease Foundation, APEX Foundation Australia, Australian Kidney Foundation (because Sir Jack was on dialysis three days a week for the past seven years), and he was on the Hope for Tomorrow Children’s’ Foundation in the UK, and also the Australian Prime Minister’s Committee on Road Safety. Kinsey made the point at the end of this Historic Winton Eulogy to honour the service of Sir Jack’s best friend, wife Lady Margaret whose dedication and tireless support enabled all of us to appreciate Sir Jack’s being right through until the end.
They then introduced motorcycle commentator, Doug Dukes who talked about the work of the Indian club in bringing out the 1912 Indian, and 1914 models. Dukes later spotted a Vespa sidecar of all things commenting; “very unusual & don’t know why you would, but each to their own!”
Meanwhile, Reed and Kinsey discussed celebrations for Rover’s 110 years, Reed commenting “sadly another of the British marques that has gone forever”. Kinsey spotted the Mercedes-Benz 300SL of Patrick Devine, who chose to put the Gullwing doors up at the low speed of the parade. “It gives the impression of a seagull flying” said Reed.
Back to racing and the Group N Production Touring Cars were next out, and following the escapades of Saturday afternoon all eyes were on this grid to see if they could have a meaningful race. Henry Draper had a big moment coming on to the straight in his Mini Cooper S, but was not incontention like previous years anyway, and finished back in seventh.
Armstrong got a great jump off the start in the front wheel drive Mini as the Mustangs of Barnes and Hansen bagged up the rears. Barnes lost out after that whilst Hansen took over the lead from Armstrong and kept the Mustang Fastback out the front until the end. Rob Burns was quick in the Alfa GTV, but not quick enough as Scott Fleming got past to take third place in his Lotus Cortina.
The final race for Formula Ford was much like earlier ones with the front duo leaving the field behind, but Bennett just couldn’t get past and was to be pleased with second place from Hardman. Connelly came up to third from Lamrock.
The final scribe witnessed from commentary for the weekend was the Mark Dymond Trophy race for Group Lb. Simpson made his way up to finish in fifth in his Cooper Mk9, but it was Schapel from SA who proved dominate with a good race win from Dymond and Marks and Pegram.
All in all, with reasonably good weather for the weekend we saw good racing for the thirty-eigth year of the Historic Winton meeting.
Report by Charles Rogers/Historic Racing AAustralia