Garry Simkin: On the Can-Am trail
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.”