War­wick Brown

Australian Muscle Car - - US F5000 -

The phrase ‘Lola Limp’ makes light of a dread­ful sit­u­a­tion faced by Lola F5000 driv­ers in the 1970s. The Lo­las weren’t the strong­est chas­sis, which meant that any de­cent frontal shunt was bad news for the driver’s legs. Kevin Bartlett and War­wick Brown are two of many driv­ers who would suf­fer from ‘Lola Limp’.

In fact, it was the se­vere leg in­juries Brown sus­tained when he crashed his Lola T300 at Surfers Par­adise in early ’73 that prompted him to look to the Amer­i­can F5000 scene.

“Up un­til the ac­ci­dent,” Brown says, “my plan was to be For­mula 1 World Cham­pion. Af­ter that, re­al­ity bit a lit­tle and I thought, ‘well, maybe I’m not go­ing to be World Cham­pion’. And that’s when we looked at Amer­ica rather than Europe.

“I thought maybe I can make a lot of money out of it. But there’s no amount of money that could make you do this if it’s not in you. It would frighten the hell out of you. I used to do it be­cause I had a be­lief that I had a gift for it, and one of the byprod­ucts of that was that you could make a lot of money out it.”

And there was cer­tainly a lot of money in the Amer­i­can F5000 scene.

Plans were made for a lim­ited US cam­paign with a new T332 in the lat­ter half of 1974.

His first race was at On­tario, a very fast In­di­anapo­lis-style oval/road course com­pris­ing two cor­ners on the oval and then an in­field road sec­tion.

“We ar­rived at On­tario with a Dodge van and a trailer, and maybe a spare gear­box and en­gine. Lo and be­hold, who pulls into the pits be­hind us but the Vel’s Par­nelli Jones team, with Mario An­dretti’s car. A pan­tech­ni­con, two cars, six spare en­gines, mul­ti­ple sus­pen­sion sets, 15 blokes walk­ing around. We had three.

“I said to (Peter) Mol­loy, ‘Have you seen this? Who talked us into this? We must be nuts!’ Peter got hold of me and said, ‘Just be cool, just do what you nor­mally do and leave the rest to me’.

“So, out we go, and first ses­sion we were third quick­est. Peter had done a spe­cial en­gine for me, and the dif­fer­ence was that the Amer­i­cans had big in­lets, be­cause they thought big in­lets meant more power – which it did, but with our smaller in­lets, the power was much smoother, and we could get off cor­ners bet­ter. It did lack a lit­tle bit on the straights, but it worked for us.

“Then the Amer­i­cans came over. Al Bartz, the big Chev en­gine builder, and oth­ers. They knew who Mol­loy was, but they looked at our tiny lit­tle in­takes and said, ‘What are you gonna do with that?’. But af­ter that week­end Mol­loy got six or seven or­ders for en­gines from Amer­i­can guys.

“In the heat race I fin­ished sec­ond, and in the main race I was right up there, be­hind An­dretti and Brian Redman. Fire­stone had given us these tyres, and that was the first time we’d been given tyres, and they said, ‘We’ve got a spe­cial set for you, Mario’s tyres’, and any­way the tyres just gave up and that was it.

“Mol­loy will tell you today that they dud­ded us with a crook set of tyres. Be­cause we had them, and they knew we had them. We spoke to Goodyear af­ter that, from that day on for the rest of my ca­reer I never paid for a set of tyres.”

In his third and last race of that cam­paign, at River­side, Brown was third be­hind An­dretti and Redman. Not bad com­pany.

Then he came home for the Aus­tralian Grand Prix, to be held on the new ‘grand prix’ cir­cuit at Oran Park. Brown was lead­ing by well over half a minute when the har­monic bal­ancer failed and cut a brake line, 13 laps from home. It was a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment, but it at least proved a point.

“I’d gone to Amer­ica and com­peted with the best in the world, and found that I could do it. It lifted my con­fi­dence to an­other level and that showed when I came back to Aus­tralia.”

For ’75 Brown signed to drive a Talon-Chev for Amer­i­can en­trant Jack McCor­mack. The deal looked good on pa­per but, in hind­sight, Brown says it was a mis­take.

“It was a works team, but it was un­der re­sourced. The car was ex­cel­lent. We had our ‘74 Mol­loy en­gines in it, but the yanks had come on a bit with en­gines since then. I think if we’d had com­pet­i­tive en­gines we would have won races. It was a more rigid car than the Lola, so in terms of hav­ing an ac­ci­dent it was no wor­ries. It was prob­a­bly not as good in high speed cor­ners as the Lola but it had bet­ter slow cor­ner me­chan­i­cal grip.

“My prob­lem, com­pared to Mario and Brian, was that I was try­ing to make up half a dozen car lengths down the straight. I could make some of that up through the cor­ners, but not all of it.

“Mol­loy couldn’t stay over there the whole year as he had too much work on, so there was no de­vel­op­ment.

“I had a Ryan Fal­coner en­gine in ’76, and didn’t that have some mumbo! If I’d had that en­gine the year be­fore, I’d have given them a heap of trou­ble.”

Brown was back in a Lola for 1976, but the cir­cum­stances un­der which he came to drive for Bob Bay Rac­ing were hor­ren­dous, to say the least.

“Bob’s driver (in 1975) was BJ Swan­son. It was his first full year of For­mula 5000 and he was bril­liant, but he was hav­ing lots of ac­ci­dents. We be­came re­ally good friends. BJ was 23 and I was a bit older, and I said to him – like Mol­loy had with me – ‘Lis­ten mate, you’ve got a great fu­ture; you’ve just got to calm down a lit­tle. You’ve got that much adren­a­line go­ing on, you’re get­ting into sit­u­a­tions you can’t get out of. Just come back a quar­ter of a sec­ond a lap and be a bit more an­a­lyt­i­cal about it’.

“So we line up at Mid Ohio, Redman’s in front, I think An­dretti was sec­ond, and BJ and I were on the sec­ond row. Go­ing down into the first cor­ner it was al­most a re­peat of Walker’s thing at Sandown; I felt him com­ing, he’s on the dirty side of the road, and I could see straight away there’s no way he was go­ing to make it – he was ei­ther go­ing to hit me or crash or both. I just hung in there and as I saw him come up be­side me, his car had a bit of a twitch, and then he went off and into an armco fence. The fence split and he vir­tu­ally got de­cap­i­tated.

“It took them ages to get him out of the car. I went to see him in hospi­tal that night be­fore they switched off the life sup­port. It was ter­ri­ble. I kept think­ing, ‘Why didn’t he lis­ten to me?’ If he’d had the luck to have a Mol­loy to guide him, he’d have been world cham­pion.

“So I ended up re­plac­ing BJ. It started out OK but Bob was a chronic al­co­holic, and we ended up su­ing each other, which was un­for­tu­nate. How fool­ish – a lit­tle Aussie guy get­ting in­volved in the Amer­i­can le­gal sys­tem. I should have run away at a hun­dred miles an hour.

“We ended up fix­ing it be­tween us in a bar one night, but he still ended up ow­ing me money.”

But out of that came the big break: a deal with VDS, the F5000 megateam owned by Stella Ar­tois beer mag­nate, Count Rudi van der Straten. VDS gave Brown a run in their new but trou­ble­some Lola T430 in the fi­nal two races of ’76.

“I’d known VDS be­cause I’d been rac­ing them for years, and the team man­ager was Steve Horne, who later be­came Tas­man Motorsport. He was a Kiwi and he knew me, and he said to the old man (Count van der Straten) ‘put War­wick in the car and he’ll do some­thing’.

“So VDS put me in the T430. (Peter) Gethin didn’t like it; (Teddy) Pilette ab­so­lutely hated it. I had a Mo­rand en­gine which was at least 50 horse­power down on the oth­ers, and in the first race I ran pretty close to them. That im­pressed the old man and he fired Pilette and asked if I wanted to do the next Roth­mans Se­ries with Gethin.”

It was the start of a suc­cess­ful four-year part­ner­ship with VDS that would take Brown into the re­born Can-Am – which he al­most won in 1978. The only thing that stood in his way that year was, some­what iron­i­cally, an­other Aussie, in the form of Alan Jones. (ED: See is­sue #96’s ‘Aussies in Can-Am MkII’ sto­ries for how that panned out.)

“We ar­rived at On­tario with a Dodge van and a trailer, and maybe a spare gear­box and en­gine. Lo and be­hold, who pulls into the pits be­hind us but the Vel’s Par­nelli Jones team, with Mario An­dretti’s car. A pan­tech­ni­con, two cars, six spare en­gines, mul­ti­ple sus­pen­sion sets, 15 blokes walk­ing around. We had three.”

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