Phillip Island Classic

Phillip Island Classic – 8 to 10 March 2019

By most accounts the 30th anniversary event was by far the most incident free in recent times. Little red flags and heaps of continued racing, and I must say some fabulous weather made way for a superb event.

We say that Phillip Island can either be a howling gale, stormy (or combination), extremely hot, or just absolutely pleasant. 2019 was the latter, for sure. With 450 entrants approx. the trackside action did not disappoint. It was Formula 5000s bye year – I don’t think many people realised that!

1960s racing & sport-racing

Less than 4 tenths of a second separated the top three qualifiers heading into the first of 5 races for the weekend. The front row was set Brabham BT14/16 of Keith Simpson was poised on pole position with a lap time of 1.43.21 – a blistering time for the earliest of the Group O racing cars, and alongside – the ex. Chris Farrell ‘Irish Racing Cars’ 4-valve FVA engine Brabham BT30, now in the ownership of long time F5000 competitor, Andrew Robson. With Laurie Bennett in hot pursuit (Elfin 600) and the invited Lola T70 of Perry Spiridis locking out the second row we were in for a treat with the first race of the event.

Spiridis got the best of the starts and quickly opened up a huge lead, but as the chasing pack came through for the second lap, the leader of that – Bennett we gesturing to the starter with visible signs of oil spray across his helmet face. After four quick laps, the T70 was the clear race winner, but it was Bennett who narrowly took the racing car section by 3 tenths of a second over Simpson, with Herb Neal a few seconds back in the Neal Ford Mk2.

Race 2 saw Keith Simpson do a gearbox on the startline, which ruled him out for the weekend. The T70  of Spiridis again dominated in the second of the four lap sreamers by 14 seconds over Bennett with Robson storming back through to claim third in the BT30 (after failing to finish race one) in a close finish with Craig Van Dieman – driving Tim Kutchel’s Brabham BT18.

With Spiridis moved across as an invited entry into the 1970s sports-racing car field this opened up races 3-5 to be dominated by the pure 1960s racing cars. Bennett took out race three, while Robson having his maiden win in race four, then Kutchel his maiden win in the recently restored Brabham BT35. That was a 1-2 for his collection with Van Dieman taking second in the final in the BT18.

Other highlights in this category were the first appearance of the Elfin 400 of Mark Goldsmith from South Australia. This is the first of the four 400s built, and houses the 5-litre Ford Cobra engine out back. Whilst it doesn’t appear any lap records were touched in the Groups M & O cars, it does appear that the Formula Junior lap record set in 2016 by Bill Norman in his Lynx was smashed by the Rennmax BN1 of Noel Bryen with a 1.46.09 in race one.

1930s to 1950s racing and sports-racing cars

A lot of motor racing history made up this field, from the locally built Specials to the might of UK, European and US engineering. At the pointy end of the field it was the battle of the Aussie-specials; the Repco Holden of Nick McDonald vs the Faux Pas of David Reid vs the Dalro Jaguar of Les Wright. All fromn the late 1950s when on song they were unstoppable. Enthusiasts will know the name Carrol Shelby and John Bowe – well, JB drove the wheels off the ex. Shelby Allard J2X-Cadillac in great battles across the five races with the UK-visitor, Michael O’Shea in the ex Roy Salvadori Cooper Maserati – featuring the 5-litre quad-cam V8 behind the driver.

The ex. Carrol Shelby Allard J2X-Cadillac of John Bowe.

1960s & 1970s Production Sports Cars

Jeff Thomas joined Chris Smith in the commentary box for these races. Whilst on the entry list, Jeff’s motor in the Datsum 260Z was not ready in time for the event – missing the over capacity grid. Some critics are saying that this grid is becoming a Porsche benefit, but we beg to differ as the racing that unfolded here had a lot of US-metal at the pointy end.

Close fought was qualifying that Wayne Seabrook took pole position by the narrowest of margins (1 tenth) in his 3-lite Porsche 911 ahead of two big-block Corvette Stingrays of Paul Blackie and Dem Constantin. The next of the Stuttgart brigade qualified sixth.

Production Sports Cars race four start

Stan Alder (Porsche 911) made up ground in race one to play amongst the front runners, but narrowly got pipped by Seabrook at the finish, with Blackie the winner. A solid performance from the debuting Carey McMahon’s De Tomaso Pantera GTS for fourth place showed signs of things to come, particularly as he managed to grab the fastest lap time – more than a second faster than Blackie, Seabrook and Adler that finished ahead.

In race two, Seabrook made a rare error, spinning at MG and having to wait for most to pass before making his way back through the pack. This well and truly opened up the ‘non-Porsche benefit’ with Blackie taking out a second win, ahead of McMahon (again grabbing the fastest lap) and Constantin in third – the three neck-and-neck to the finish.

Blackie lasted three laps in race three before his weekend ended prematurely (consolation prize was taking the fastest lap mantle from McMahon before his retirement). This gave Constantin the first of his three wins – the first ahead of Seabrook and Adler. In that race, McMahon was the spinner and put on a great display of driving in the GTS to finish a solid fourth. He would make this a second place in the next.

In the final, Thomas was super excited behind the microphone as Brett Smith drove brilliantly in the Datsun 280Z to grab the last place on the podium behind Constantin and Seabrook.

Of special note is to Brian Weston, who completed his 150th race meeting in his 1971 MG Midget – finishing a strong 11th in the final. Well done Brian.

Group C & Group A Touring Cars

Check back soon for what could be a humourous report on this grid, plus more…..