Report and photos by Vince Johnson
The 2013 Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport was held March 9-11 at the 4.445 km (2.762 mile) Phillip Island Circuit in Victoria, Australia.
It wasn’t only the sun that brought the heat to Phillip Island for the 24th Classic Festival of Motorsport. The big bangers were back and Can-Am thunder was the weather predicted for the meeting. Competing in the ‘International Sportscar Challenge’, the McLarens, Lolas and Elfins were joined by Porsches and Le Mans Matra-Simcas in three rolling-start feature races.
UK visitor Michael Lyons was not catchable all weekend in his March 717, winning Saturday morning’s 5-lapper by over a minute and a half from the McLaren M8s of Queenslander Duncan MacKellar and Andrew Newall (UK). In the afternoon race, Newall closed to within 16 seconds after the 6 laps, six seconds ahead of Rick Hall (UK) in the Matra-Simca MS 670B/C. This car, chassis #1, had come home third in the 1973 Le Mans 24 hour race and Rick repeated the result in Sunday’s feature 15 lap event, behind Russel Kempnich’s Porsche 956C. Lyons 8.8-litre March led the Porsche over the line by 48 seconds. In 1974 at Le Mans, chassis #5 Matra-Simca had kept the tradition alive with a third place finish. Rob Hall followed Rick home in this car on Sunday, justifying the engine work done after its DNFs in the earlier races.
The Porsche Museum has been bringing its treasures all the way from Stuttgart to run on the sweeping circuit for years and 2013 was no exception. Recently resurfaced at a cost of $3m, the now billiard-table smooth track was ideal for their 1981 Le Mans-winning 936 Spyder and Alex Davison drove it to fifth behind the two Matras on Sunday. In the Porsche paddock, custodian Klaus Bischof and his technicians had another winner to prepare, the naturally aspirated RS Spyder #6 that won the American Le Mans LMP2 category in 2006. Fittingly, Porsche is aiming for victory at the French circuit in 2014 with a factory-entered team.
Six-time Bathurst winner Larry Perkins was in the ex-Kevin Bartlett De Tomaso Pantera, lapping consistently and scoring two fifth places on in the first two races. With a similar capacity to the Matras was Joe Nastasi’s Alfa Romeo T33/SC12, one of two cars he brought from the USA to the island. Eighth in race 1 was its best result before the gremlins set in.
The Formula 5000 grid included the mostly smaller-engined Groups Q and R open-wheelers. Scott Drnek almost made a clean sweep of the four races, his 3-litre March 741 yielding to Paul Stubber’s 5.8-litre March 81C on Sunday morning. Cubic inches weren’t a necessity for Sean Whelan, second to Drnek twice in his 1.6-litre Ralt RT4. Of the 5000s, Darcy Russell’s Lola T330 and Harindra de Silva’s Surtees TS8 were the class leaders, each finishing with two firsts.
Competition is rife in the Formula Ford category and with Formula Vee in the mix, the racing was always going to be close. The Van Diemens of Nick Bennett (2 wins), Tim Blanchard and Jonathan Miles (1 win each) and Andrew McInnes and the Reynard of David Holland had their mirrors full while Don Grieveson claimed two class wins in his Spectre Vee.
Arguably the best-looking of the Group M, O and Invited field was Joe Nastasi’s other Alfa Romeo, his T33/2 Periscopo. Unfortunately it retired, after three laps of Saturday morning’s race, to the pit garage for the rest of the weekend. Damon Hancock (Brabham BT23C) was unbeatable with four wins from Ray Stubber (Brabham BT29). Third places were shared by Keith Simpson’s Brabham BT16 and Andrew Goldie’s Elfin 600. Equally hard to catch, with four wins outright in the Groups J, Ka, Kb, Lb and Invited category, was perennial UK visitor Rod Jolley. The opposition, reflected in the unpainted body of his Monza Lister Jaguar, included Nick McDonald (Elva Courier), Grant Craft (Sharp Holden) and David Reid (Faux Pas). Not far behind, for the first two races at least, was US-based Irishman Paddins Dowling. His seventy-four-year-old Maserati 4CL belied its age, responding to an owner familiar with its ability. Brake problems emerged during race 3 and it spent the rest of Sunday being readied for its appointment the following weekend at the Australian F1 Grand Prix. In Group Lb, South Australian Bob Schapel scored three class wins with his MG TC S/C.
Nissan and Ford took the laurels in the Group A and C Touring Car races. Mark Skaife finished with two wins and a second in the Jim Richards-entered Nissan HR31 while Terry Lawlor and Bryan Sala each won in their Sierra RS500s. The Nissan Skylines of Luke Ellery and Rod Markland, Sala’s Sierra and the quick BMW M3 of Bill Cutler shared the minor placings.
Troy Ryan can be counted on to get the most out of anything he drives and his 1275cc Austin-Healey Sprite harried the larger-engined Porsche 911S of Alex Webster and Peter Jackson’s Healey 3000 Mk1 in the Group S races on Saturday. Ryan and Webster each had a win from Jackson, Graeme Rutledge (Triumph TR6) taking 3rd in the afternoon race.
In Sunday’s Division 1 races Michael Byrne’s Lotus Seven S4 left Ryan and Jackson to collect the spoils. The post-1970 cars had full grids to contend with. Rusty French had the legs and had made it three from three in his De Tomaso Pantera over the Porsches of Geoffrey Morgan, Stan Adler and Sven Burchartz by lunchtime on Sunday. He lasted just one lap in the afternoon, the race going to Burchartz from Adler and Rohan Little, also in a 911 Carrera. The grass on the outside of turn 10 at the bottom of Lukey Heights often feels the after effects of downhill late braking. Ray Narkiewicz’s Corvette gave it the heat treatment on Sunday morning after its wide exit from the right-hander.
Aussie historic touring car racing revives the epic battles of the ’60s and ’70s, when Holden Toranas took on the five-litre V8 Fords at tracks around the continent. There was Mustang muscle aplenty at the sharp end all weekend, Michael Donaher taking both Saturday races and Darryl Hansen doing the same on Sunday, from Harry Barwanna and John Harrison’s similar mounts and Rod Hotchkin’s Falcon GTHO. Giant-killer Angelo Taranto’s 3.3-litre Torana GTR XU1 grabbed third in the first race and was consistently in the top seven, taking four class wins for the weekend.
The more relaxed pace of the Regularity runs can be deceptive. Avoiding slower cars and keeping out-of-the-way of faster ones can play havoc with setting consistent lap times. In Division 1, winners were David Aberdeen (MGB GT), David Kelly (Austin-Healey BN1), Paul Chaleyer (Alfa Romeo Giulietta 750 Spider) and Rod Zaverdinos (GSM Dart). Aberdeen also had a third place while Barry Pritchett (Triumph TR6) scored a second and a third. Division 2 saw John Hardy the most successful in his beautifully presented Alpine-Renault A110, with two wins, a second and fifth. Other wins went to Robert Russell (Porsche Carrera) and Shane O’Brien (Austin-Healey BN1) while Geoff Burgess (Alfa Romeo 1750) went home with a second and a third place.
The centenary of Aston Martin was recognised with the display of Australian collector Peter Harburg’s Le Mans spec DB2, chassis LML/50/13, one of the 3-car Briggs Cunningham team entry at the 1950 Sebring Six-Hour. Harburg also displayed his ex-Bib Stillwell Jaguar D-Type, the seventh of 53 customer cars built and originally registered XKD 520 by the factory. Sixty years of the Chevrolet Corvette and 40 years of the Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 were celebrated, together with a display of Mustangs and Cobras honouring the late Carroll Shelby.
Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport. Expect the Victorian Historic Racing Register and the Mini Club of Victoria to have the silver on display.