Garry Simkin: On the Can-Am trail

Australian Muscle Car - - Can-An MkII - Paul Newby

Kiwi

me­chanic Garry Simkin talked him­self into a job with Pat Burke Rac­ing at the time War­wick Brown won the 1975 Tas­man Se­ries. Head me­chanic Peter Mol­loy sug­gested that War­wick should take Garry over with him to the States.

“I went over with War­wick Brown for the ’75 US F5000 cham­pi­onship,” re­mem­bers Simkin to­day. “I was a go­pher on the Talon that he was rac­ing. When Brown’s deal with Bay Rac­ing fell over in mid 1976 I joined Rac­ing Team VDS. The driv­ers then were Teddy Pilette and Peter Gethin. War­wick joined the team for the fi­nal round at River­side in a new Lola T430 and beat the reg­u­lar driv­ers.” Simkin re­mained with VDS for the first sea­son of the re-born Can-Am. “We were us­ing Lola T333 CS, which had a stronger tub than the T332 and also twin caliper front brakes. Af­ter the first race at Mont-Trem­blant, Canada our car was found to be 40 pounds un­der­weight. The tech in­spec­tor told us to ‘get this car out of here and don’t bring it back like this!’ They didn’t want any con­tro­versy af­ter events of the first race.”

“I re­mem­ber get­ting a phone call from Franz Weis, an en­gi­neer with Jim Hall’s Cha­parral who did the [Haas-Hall Can-Am] team’s devel­op­ment test­ing. He told us to move the rear wing 18 inches for­ward as the front wheels were com­ing off the ground on the main straight of Rat­tlesnake Race­way. If Jim ever found out…!”

In­no­va­tion may not have been at the same level as in the orig­i­nal Can-Am, but this didn’t mean that teams weren’t look­ing for an ‘un­fair ad­van­tage’. VDS had in­stalled in­board jacks to bring the weight up, not for faster pit­stops, as tyres were rarely changed mid race, but for psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­van­tage.

How­ever, Can-Am did have fuel stops and it’s here VDS eked out a dis­tinct ad­van­tage. Simkin laughs at the mem­ory.

“The tanks were de­signed for 100 miles but races were up to 180 miles and rules re­quired three fuel stops. Nor­mally fuel went in the left side but we put it in ei­ther side, de­pend­ing on whether the cir­cuit was clock­wise or anti-clock­wise. A vent bot­tle was at­tached to the other out­let. Our pit­stops were much faster than every­one else – eight sec­onds com­pared to 13 sec­onds – and it was a full two sea­sons be­fore any­one caught on that we had a three-inch cross pipe be­hind the seat con­nect­ing the two tanks. We had ATL make up spe­cial fuel bags and no one knew what we were do­ing. Carl Haas had (Lola boss) Eric Broadley come over for a race to see how we did it. If we did an en­gine change in the com­mon garage, fel­low Kiwi me­chan­ics Steve (Horne) and Phil (Har­ris) would re­move the en­gine and I would re­main pre­tend­ing to clean fit­tings or some­thing and I’d step aside when in­stalling the new en­gine so no one would see the cross pipe!”

When Ge­off Lees sud­denly left prior to the 1980 sea­son, The Count asked his team who they should em­ploy.

“It was Steve Horne who sug­gested we test Ge­off Brab­ham. Af­ter the test the Count asked what we thought of Brab­ham. We said he was fab­u­lous so he got the drive.”

At the end of 1981 when Brab­ham sealed the cham­pi­onship for VDS, Simkin called time on his ex­tended US work­ing hol­i­day.

“I had enough of traips­ing around Amer­ica and stay­ing in Hol­i­day Inns, so I came home.”

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