War­wick Brown

Australian Muscle Car - - Can-An MkII -

War­wick Brown was a For­mula 5000 fron­trun­ner in the early to mid 1970s in both his na­tive coun­try and in the United States. So it stands to rea­son he would be com­pet­i­tive in the re­bod­ied F5000 ma­chines of the re-born Cana­dian-Amer­i­can Chal­lenge when he landed a deal with the crack Rac­ing Team VDS.

The word ‘com­pet­i­tive’, though, re­ally doesn’t do Brown’s 1978 Can-Am sea­son jus­tice, given he fin­ished run­ner-up to Alan Jones at the peak of the soon-to-be World Cham­pion’s pow­ers.

The Syd­ney-born ace fin­ished on the podium in eight of the 10 rounds in­clud­ing vic­tory at Watkins Glen and five con­sec­u­tive sec­ond places to fin­ish the sea­son. In do­ing so he took the se­ries down the wire at a dra­matic sea­son-fi­nale at River­side in Cal­i­for­nia.

Brown first raced in the United States in 1974 in the SCCA/USAC For­mula 5000 Cham­pi­onship, backed by his early ca­reer pa­tron Pat Burke and em­ploy­ing the ex­per­tise of engi­neer­ing guru Peter Mol­loy. Brown’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in US F5000 over the two sub­se­quent sea­sons gave him his big break: a deal with VDS, the megateam owned by Stella Ar­tois beer mag­nate, Count Rudi van der Straten.

VDS had been get­ting nowhere with the new Lola T430. Brown was given a kind of au­di­tion race and im­pressed enough for VDS to re­place Teddy Pilette with the Aus­tralian. It was the start of an in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship in the US and Aus­tralia.

Lola had evolved its T332 F5000 chas­sis into the T333CS with body­work.

“They were ac­tu­ally faster than For­mula 5000, but there were aero is­sues with the body­work,” re­calls Brown with a de­gree of un­der­state­ment.

He says those is­sues devel­op­ing the new bod­ies meant VDS had just one car for the 1977 Can-Am Chal­lenge opener.

“So [team­mate Peter] Gethin and I flipped a coin to see who would drive. He won the toss.”

Just like the first era of Can-Am, Canada’s St Jovite cir­cuit hosted the first round of the re-born se­ries. And just like at the 1966 opener, there were in­ductees into the Can-Am Fly­ing Club.

“St Jovite was very un­du­lat­ing with lots of hills, and that week­end three driv­ers flipped their cars go­ing over hills. All 333CSs. First to go was [Brian] Red­man – he nearly ended up a para­plegic out of it – then El­liot Forbes-Robin­son and I can’t re­mem­ber the third.

“So the sec­ond race comes along, and we’re all ask­ing Lola – have these things been thor­oughly tested? And they’re say­ing ‘yeah, of course’. They weren’t.

“We go to La­guna Seca; I loved La­guna Seca – just like Bathurst – and we’re there on the Fri­day, two sec­onds un­der the lap record. How easy is this? But then, the first time I ever tried to go flat out over the rise past the start-fin­ish, the front went up – 60 de­grees. Ran into the bank on the out­side, bounced back onto the road and it’s just a sea of dust. The next guy be­hind came over the hill and takes pot luck which side to go, guesses wrong and hits me amid­ships. “I had smashed my an­kles up and I was out for about eight weeks.” This put paid to Brown’s Can-Am sea­son, but far from be­ing de­mor­alised he bounced back im­pres­sively the next year to make ’78 a bat­tle be­tween two Aussies.

“Alan was one of the tough­est guys I ever raced against. We’d go and have a drink to­gether, but put us in a car and we’d cut each other’s throats. But he was fair; we never had an is­sue with each other. He beat me more than I beat him, but go­ing into River­side’s fi­nale that year we were vir­tu­ally tied on points. I had the big­gest dis­agree­ment with the old man (van der Straten) over that race. I’d al­ways had two cars at my dis­posal – and Alan had two with his team – but for that last race the old man de­cided to put Ge­off Lees in my spare car, when every­thing de­pends on it.

“Alan and I were on the front row. He won the start, but af­ter a while I could see I was forc­ing him to do things he didn’t want to do, and I knew I was go­ing to win this race, and win the Can Am – I just knew it.

“About 15 laps in I go for the brakes and the pedal hits the floor. I spun off but got go­ing, man­aged to pump up the pedal and fin­ished sec­ond. Alan won the race and the Can Am. An o-ring had failed in the mas­ter cylin­der. That hurt. If I’d had my time over again I’d have loved for that not to have hap­pened.”

When was an­other time Aussies fin­ished cham­pion and run­ner-up in a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional se­ries, as AJ and War­wick Brown (seen in that or­der bot­tom left) did in ’78? It wasn’t all smooth sail­ing for WB in Can-Am though.

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