Late spring in Australia coincides with the final main historic race meeting on the calendar, at Sydney Motorsport Park, Eastern Creek. The 2015 event featured a great showcase of open-wheel racing cars, including the 50th anniversary of Formula Vee.
The largest ever grid of Formula Vee at a historic meeting in Australia took to the track – some 25 in total. Plus another five or so on display and used in the parade laps. The Formula Vee races proved some of the most exciting across the weekend with the commentators (including FVee expert, Phil Wilkinson) having a hard time picking a race winner.
Saturday morning saw short periods of heavy rain cross by the track, which dampened the speeds in the first few races while the track dried. Some drivers found it hard with the rivers running down the track, particularly on the turn 9 hairpin. Victorian Peter Strauss came well prepared with both a dry and wet weather cars. Not being able to run wet tyres in the ex Bib Stilwell Repco-Brabham BT31, Strauss chose to bring a spare car out from the back of the garage, seeing much track time in the ex Denny Hulme Brabham BT6 Formula Junior.
Kendal Barry-Cotter took out a damp Formula Ford race one in his ERS 82F, bur race two later Saturday afternoon saw Cam Walters come from the rear of grid to take the win in his Van Dieman RF86 ahead of Doug Matley (Reynard 89F) and young Victorian, Ben Robson finishing a strong third place in his Van Dieman RF88. With Walters taking the final two races on Sunday too, the battle was on well and truly in the final race for the last place on the podium with a race long dice between Kieran McLaughlin (Van Dieman RF89) and Matley – Matley taking third by just 0.07 seconds.
The pre-war to 1959 races saw an early departure for the hot favourite, Les Wright who broke a clutch plate in the Dalro Jaguar in practice. This saw Warwick McBean (Jolus) take race one from Dick Willis in the ex. Peter Matthews Nota Major. David Reid came back fighting in race two in Faux Pas (after some earlier gremlins) to finish second behind Willis.
Wright was back for Sunday morning’s trophy race following the off-site re-build of the clutch-plate overnight by the crew and started from rear of grid. It didn’t take him too long to carve his way through the field of 16 cars, and after taking Mex Pegram (Gemini Mk II) for second place could see the Faux Pas in the distance. A great battle ensued between the Dalro Jaguar and Faux Pas with the Dalro out-pacing the Aussie-special built on a Cooper frame down the long Brabham Straight to take the victory by the narrowest of margins. The final race for this grid, a handicap race was fittingly won by perhaps the best looking car at the event – the French racing blue Talbot Darracq GP car. The Talbot completing a weekend of solid racing in the hands of its owner, Noel Cunningham.
Twenty-five racing and sports-racing cars also took part in the weekend’s 1960s (and invited) events with no less than four FVA-engined Brabham cars on track. Victorian Trevor Simpson handed over the steering wheel of his 2.5 Litre Coventry-Climax engine Brabham BT23B to local front-runner, Richard Carter. The last time this car ran in anger was the 2014 Phillip Island Classic when John Bowe had a great dice with Damon Hancock. Hancock, driving one of the FVA-engine Brabhams (a BT23C) was on track at SMSP too – the first time since a fiery exit at the inaugural Sydney Retro Speedfest in 2014 (he missed the 2015 event after dropping a valve in the FVA at Phillip Island). Along with the twin-cam engine Elfin 600s of Laurie Bennett and Paul Hamilton the competitive front-end of the field included the other three FVA Brabhams – Phil Harris (BT23C), and the two Irish Racing Team sponsored BT30s of Sean Whelan and Chris Farrell.
The Tasman Series Brabham BT23B of Carter proved the car to beat in Saturday afternoon’s wet race taking victory over Farrell, Bennett and Hancock, but it was Hancock dominance thereon, taking the next three races. In the second race that afternoon Whelan and Carter left Bennett behind and had a great tussell for second and third. Farrell got the bit between his teeth in the third, finishing third behind Whelan, but it was Harris’ chance in the final to take third in his Brabham BT23C.
The Formula Junior contingent in these races was filled with good dices and drama. Bill Hemming lent his Elfin Catalina to the travelling Duncan Rabaghliati (UK). Rabaghliati, an experienced FJ competitor, and President of the UK-based Formula Junior Historic Racing Association had his far share of mechanical issues; among them loose cabling. At the pointy end of the FJ field was a great battle between Noel Bryen (Rennmax) and Bill Norman (Lynx), and further back between Don Thallon (MRC) and Tony Simmons (Brabham BT6). In the Sunday morning trophy race Bennett suffered a broken camshaft on the Brabham Straight having to retire the Elfin 600B for the weekend.
After a seat fitting by the scribe, Laurie Bennett was handed over the reigns of the ex. Hulme Brabham BT6 for the final race (as the Elfin 600B having made its way to the trailer) by Peter Strauss in a kind gesture to keep Bennett on track (and/or perhaps to have Bennett try out the fun of FJ racing?).
The Production Sports Cars field was ever popular, featuring a one- hour endurance race Sunday morning – with a compulsory driver change. For those wishing to race solo they were also made to do the compulsory stop, but a stop-watch was employed to make them wait for 40 seconds. Some of the quick changes of the two driver combinations – for example the Andrew Purvis / John Bowe change were done in 24 seconds. Wayne Seabrook had the commentators querying the long-standing view that a 2.7 litre engine Porsche 911 makes for a better race car than a 3.0 litre Porsche 911 streaking the field in blistering pace (including the perennial front-runner, Geoff Morgan (in a 2.7 lt car). Lap records were smashed, and despite the solo drive, Seabrook took victory in the Enduro by 18 seconds over the Morgan / Hogg car with Purvis / Bowe in third. First of the non-Porsche finishers was Wayne Potts & Vince Macri in the Potts Datsun 280Z followed by Laurie Sellers and Chad Parrish in the Sellers Shelby Mustang GT350.