Racing Team VDS
Rodolphe van der Straten Ponthoz, better known simply as ‘The Count’, was an heir to the Belgian brewing family that makes Stella Artois. He started the VDS team in 1964 racing Mini Coopers and soon graduated to Alfa Romeo GTAs in 1966. VDS stayed with the Italian brand up until 1970, racing TZs and 33s in the World Sports Car Championship with limited success. Fellow Belgian racer Teddy Pilette was recruited during this time and would stay for 10 years.
In 1970 VDS switched to Lola T70s in sports car races and would soon move into F5000 with McLaren, Chevron and Lola machines. Pilette won the European F5000 title twice and teammate Peter Gethin won the Tasman championship in 1974.
That presence in Australia extended to Warwick Brown winning the 1977 Australian Grand Prix in VDS’s distinctive red with blue and white stripes Chevron B37. This was followed by back-to-back Rothmans Series titles, 1978 and 1979.
VDS left the Can-Am series after 1982 and moved to the CART Indycar Series. By this time ex-Chaparral engineer Franz Weis had bought into the team relocating it to Midland Texas. Ironically, it was former VDS discard Geoff Brabham who would star at the 1983 Indy 500.
“Their driver John Paul Jnr had crashed and broke his ankle,” recalls Brabham. “They put me in the car in the second week and it was the best car (Penske PC10) I had at Indy. The previous year’s Penske was better than the current one. I should have finished second but unfortunately I stalled at the last pitstop. We had a great race. It was great to drive for VDS again though it was a very different team.”
The team went into hibernation after 1984, concentrating on maintaining race engines for Ilmor Engineering’s Indycar customers.
1991 saw VDS join forces with Jim Hall to form Hall-VDS Racing, winning first time out with John Andretti at the inaugural Surfers Paradise Indy race. Its last Indy car season was in 1993 with Teo Fabi.
Count Rudy van der Straten died in 1992 but the VDS name lives on today – again with an Australian connection. Rudy’s son Marc runs Marc VDS Racing Team in MotoGP with Aussie Jack Miller on a customer Honda and grandson Raphael in Belgian GT racing.