The inaugural Sydney Retro Speedfest was held on the weekend of 3-4 May 2014.with the HSRCA (Historic Sports & Racing Car Association of NSW) looking to promote a larger mid-Autumn meeting in lieu of a formally staged bi-annual Tasman Revival meeting (later in 2014) negotiations with the promoters of the Sydney Motorsport Park, the ARDC (Australian Racing Drivers Club) conduced in agreement to co-stage a new historic race meeting for Australia, the Sydney Retro Speedfest.
Entries were opened to 7 historic categories, the categories focusing from the late 1950s through to the early 1990s. Touring cars, sports cars & open wheel racing cars took part, collectively with more than 250 entries received for the meeting.
Large numbers participated in the Friday private practice sessions, making modifications, but for some encountering problems that would see one or two pack up with terminal issues. For the most part, things looked good.
One car of particular note that tested during Friday was the 1967 Brabham BT23C. This car is the most recent departee from the Brabham collection of Brian Wilson, who has passed it on to Chad Parrish. The car was originally built for Sir Jack to take part in that year’s European F2 Championship, and with its 1.6 litre FVA engine proved a genuine contender for the Championship. It was later owned by Frank Williams (with Piers Courage behind the steering wheel). Parrish, a former Formula Ford driver in recent times has shown his speed in Historic Production Sports Car racing in his Shelby GT350. This purchase will no doubt see him mix it amongst the top runners in the very competitive 1960s racing car fields at historic events to come across Australia.
Overnight Friday, Sydney saw quite inclement weather conditions, with the forecast for Saturday being doubtful. This transpired Saturday morning with cold and windy conditions, but fortunately no rain ensued as the day progressed.
Both Saturday and Sunday saw two races for each category, run under a timed race format – not a set number of laps. This seemed to work well in most circumstances, but in other, not so. The ‘others’ was predominantly where an unfortunate incident in either the warm-up, first or second lap resulted in reduced two-lap dash races, or a cancellation altogether. In all, the plunge seemed to work out.
Damon Hancock continued his dominate performances in the Groups M & O field for 1960s racing cars in recent times with two wins on Saturday in his Brabham BT23C. This was not without some tries from others with a good qualifying performance from Victorian Keith Simpson (Brabham BT16) and local Richard Carter (Elfin Mono). Sunday morning, however, saw fortunes change for Hancock who on the opening lap of the third race developed a fuel leak. Though it’s not known at this stage what caused the leak, it resulted in a cockpit fire as he entered the main straight. The fire took on throughout the vehicle, but for Hancock it was the cockpit where the issue was the most. Struggling to get his belts undone he appeared to have suffered burns to his hands when standing well back from the car watching the small fire. He found a small bit of water (probably in soggy ground from recent rains in the area) until the circuit Ambulance and medical team arrived. It is understood that the burns have taken to both hands and his right arm, and it is believed that skin grafts to his hands will be required.
Hancock was not the only one to experience dramas in this field, with Victorian Jeff Brown’s Brabham BT28 causing a delayed start to Saturday’s afternoon race. During the warm up lap, Brown’s Brabham speared into the wall causing significant damage to the left rear corner of the open-wheeler. The cause expected to be a broken universal-joint on the right rear of the car that forced Brown to lose control at the low-speed warm-up lap pace.
Carter ended up taking a race win in the final, Dawson-Damer Trophy race from Steve Weller (Elfin 600) and Simpson in third.
The Regularity field saw some interesting cars this time with a few Shelby GT350s. One of particular note was that of Rick Marks. This car has ome great competition history in period, originally run in drag racing in the US from 1966-1969, then circuit raced. In 2008, HRAs Charles Rogers visited Marks’ garage in NSW en route to that year’s Festival of Speed on Tweed – at the time the car had just 23,000 genuine miles on the clock. It was good to see the experienced historic racer Marks out there giving the car a run as part of the Shelby Boys 98 Racing Team.
Lunchtime break on both days was devoted to a Historic Formula 1 demonstration. Sydney Retro Speedfest patrons were the first to see the 1989 Arrows of George Nakas on Saturday. The car was run in that year’s F1 season by Eddie Chever. Brian Wilson dusted off his 1967 Brabham BT24-1, the car in which Sir Jack piloted to second place in that year’s F1 World Championship. While Chad Parrish continued to get to grips with the ex. Wilson 1967 Brabham BT23C FVA. Chad, a very competent driver in his Shelby GT350 will no doubt keep this Brabham at the front of the field at meetings to come.
Those betting on the quadrella in the Groups Q ^ R Sports-Racing & Racing car field’s races chose well to pick young gun Tom Tweedie who faultlessly steered his Chevron B24/28 F5000 to four very convincing wins. It was not so lucky for his father Bob, who failed to continue through the weekend after terminal issues during Saturday’s qualifying session put his Elfin MS7 sports car out of the event.
Tom Twwedie’s dominance wasn’t complete though with Victorian George Nakas posting fastest time in qualifying to take pole position in his Dutton Garage prepared Porsche 962. Fellow Victorian Peter Larner rounded out the top 10 in the Elfin 700 in which he won the 1977 Australian Formula 2 Championship. Son Jamie’s weekend was cut short, however, in the RALT RT2 sports-car with engine bracket problems.
Youngster Daniel Kennedy put the challenge to the more mature competitors in the Group N races in his Ford Falcon GT finishing 3rd in the first race, then following a DNF in the second, crawled his way back up the field during Sunday’s two races taking third in the third, then a well-deserved victory in the fourth and final race over two of the earlier victors, John Wright (Holden Torana XU1) and John Harrison in his new Ford Mustang.
Laurie Sellers debuted his newly-finished Shelby GT350 in the Group S races, finishing mid-pack all weekend. Geoff Morgan continued his dominance of the category across the country winning all three scratch races, the fourth race for this category being a handicap – won by the Austin Healey Sprite of Ric Forster.
While the final race was mared with a late-race accident when Wes Dayton’s Triumph TR3A engine blew along the main straight, Dayton coming to rest off the track near turn one-two. Fellow long-time and experienced competitor, Daniel Gatto was the unfortunate victim finding the oil on the track shortly after Dayton had got out of the car and spearing into it causing significant dame to both the Triumph and his Alfetta GTV.
A good field of 30 Heritage Touring Cars took to the track across the weekend. Heritage Touring Cars representing the ATCC Groups C & A period – the genuine cars. David Towe led the pace on Saturday in the JPS BMW M3 taking out the first two race wins. A DNF followed in Sunday morning;s race three, putting Towe out for the weekend. A gallant effort for the long-time M3 driver. This paved the way for others to take the top places, but it would be Corey McMahon (who had dramas early in the weekend) in his Gibson Motorsport prepared Nissan Skyline GTS-R took the final two race wins. They were not without a fight from Bill Pye in the ex. Dick Johnson / Larry Perkins Greens-Tuf Ford Mustang and Victorian Bill Cutler and his Wersteiner BMW M3.
1966 Bathurst winner, Bob Holden, now 81 had four of his old cars on track in the Group C component of the grid with himself in a Toyota Corolla finishing 13th in the final race following a DNF in the 3rd, and also finishing in front of the other three Bob Holden Motors cars of Justin Matthews (DNF – Ford Escort MkII), David Paterson (14th – Toyota Corolla) and Russell Keam (17th – Ford Escort RS20).
A reasonable crowd (for Sydney standards) attended this inaugural race meeting, which was well run by the HSRCA and ARDC.