MOTOR SPORT FLASHBACK
MICHAEL TOUCHES ON A FEW IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARIES AND GETS TO WINE AND DINE WITH AN AUSSIE MOTOR RACING LEGEND
Denny’s big month
This month marks some very special anniversaries in the history of New Zealand motor racing. On May 7, 1967, Denny Hulme won his first Grand Prix (GP) — at Monaco, the jewel in the crown. He wasn’t the first Kiwi to win a Formula 1 (F1) GP (Bruce Mclaren had already won three — including Monaco five years earlier), but Denny’s victory set him on a roll that culminated in his taking the world championship in Mexico City 168 days later. Fifty years ago this month also marked the first time two Kiwis had ever stood on an F1 podium, because Chris Amon had finished third in his debut GP for Ferrari around the streets of the principality. Bruce meanwhile finished fourth — the highest place up to that point for a Mclaren F1 car, even if it was very much an interim affair that was adapted from the new Formula 2 ‘M4’ to take a 2.1-litre V8 BRM.
It was a bittersweet victory — Chris’ teammate Lorenzo Bandini had crashed late in the race after running for a while in the lead. The Ferrari overturned and caught fire, trapping the poor Italian underneath. Bandini succumbed in hospital a few days later — he was the epitome of the dashing, handsome Italian racing driver with the name that was just meant to be that of a Ferrari pilot’s.
But Denny wasn’t done making history 50 years ago this month — at the end of May, he became the first New Zealander to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 — and, by the end of the race, he’d been awarded the coveted Rookie of the Year, after finishing fourth in an Eagle. However, the sensation of the race had been the turbine-powered car of Parnelli Jones, which came within a few laps of winning.
Seventy years of Ferrari
May 11 will mark 70 years since the first Ferrari — it was a sports car called the ‘125S’, because each of its 12 cylinders was 125cc to make up the total displacement of 1500cc. The V12 was almost square, developed all of 87kw, and was driven through a five-speed gearbox. That year, it won six of the 14 races entered. A 2.0-litre 166S won the Targa Florio the following April, and Ferrari then celebrated its first birthday as a manufacturer with victory in the Mille Miglia — the brand had already been established in Alfa Romeos prior to the war but now the legend was emerging. An openwheeler version of the 125 was produced that year, following the introduction of F1. When the 24 Hours of Le Mans returned in 1949, a Ferrari won — the first of nine victories over the next 16 years — and when
the world championship kicked off in 1950, Ferrari was right there. Or nearly — it missed the first ever GP counting for the world championship but was at Monaco for round two that year.
Rotund Argentinean José Froilán González made history when he won the 1951 British GP — Ferrari’s first in a world championship GP, and, at the opening round of this year’s title chase, Sebastian Vettel won the Scuderia’s 225th points-paying GP. González’ car was a 4.5-litre V12, but few successful F1 Ferraris have been V12s — most of Alberto Ascari’s wins came with the fourcylinder 2.0-litre, while Mike Hawthorn’s narrowly won 1958 world title gained at the wheel of a 2.4-litre V6. Phil Hill’s 1961 championship-winning mount was also a V6, but 1500cc, and that was still the limit when John Surtees won the title in 1964, with a V8. Ferrari’s return to the V12 configuration for the new 3.0-litre formula in 1966 was the start of a long dry spell until Niki Lauda turned up. There had been occasional wins but little more during a period when Chris Amon had been team leader. The new flat-12 had shown promise in the early ’70s, but the Austrian was generally the man to beat from 1975 to 1977, during which time he was champion twice and runner-up once.
South African Jody Scheckter won the final title for Ferrari’s flat-12 in 1979, before the start of yet another barren period for titles — in fact, it was an another 21 years before Ferrari had another world champion, when Michael Schumacher won the first of five titles in a row for Italy’s favourite team, each time with a 3.0-litre V10 behind him. Ferrari’s most recent world champion was Kimi Räikkönen (with a 2.4-litre V8), but that is now a decade ago. Since the early ’70s, Ferrari has focused on F1 rather than attempting to win in sports cars at the same time. It last won Le Mans in 1965, but, irrespective of results, its thousands of fans around the world bring colour, emotion, and noise to F1.
Myths and legends
As it happens, if one differentiates between a V12 and a flat-12, the engine configuration Ferrari is most associated with has never won it a world title.
It may have been noted that I’ve omitted one Ferrari world champion — Juan-manuel Fangio. The legendary driver only spent one season, 1956, at the Scuderia, and decided early on that he and Enzo were not destined to get along. Fangio’s title that year, however, was in the Lancia-ferrari powered by Lancia’s 2.5-litre V8.
There are various versions of exactly how Lancia’s promising but underfinanced cars came to Ferrari — just as there is mystery, intrigue, and even myth about much of the goings on at Ferrari over these past seven decades, all managed, massaged, and expertly manipulated by the masterful Enzo Ferrari.
Snow and the Maybach
I was at Melbourne to see Ferrari win the opening round of the 2017 season — hopefully the red cars, and others, can provide some serious opposition to Mercedes, so that every GP this season is eagerly anticipated. Crowd numbers were well up, and we got some feeling for this when the queue we were in on Saturday morning took at least 30 minutes to get in. I hadn’t been to a F1 GP since 2014, but was instantly reminded of how well the Australians do it. Perhaps only Silverstone puts on a better overall show — from support races to formation fly-pasts, and the magnificence that is the F/A-18 fighter jet.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, there were the demonstration runs of the historic cars — most of which would have been racing the previous weekend down at the wondrous Phillip Island.
We had particular interest in one of the historic cars, and not just because it won our first GP at Ardmore. The Maybach that won at the South Auckland airfield in January 1954, in the hands of Stan Jones, is now owned by Bob Harborow. Originally from Bluff, Bob has been in Australia for years, and, although he’s done rather well, he remains a laid-back bloke who remembers his mates — one of who is Snow Chisholm, who first travelled with Bob on the bus from Bluff to go to school nearly 70 years ago. Snow has raced a Formula Ford in recent years and has competed in a variety of cars, so knows his way around a race track — but, when his old mate from the deep south offered his priceless Maybach for the demonstration laps over the GP weekend, he wasn’t sure it was for real.
Ably assisted by his modest but highly capable friend and mechanic Ken Henderson, another from Southland, Snow became more and more comfortable behind the wheel of the 3.8 straight-six-powered marvel of Australasian motor racing history. We also have Ken to thank for the photos …
Dining at Duttons
Back in February, at the function to celebrate the renaming of Manfeild as Circuit Chris Amon, one of the VIPS asked my wife if we ever get over to Melbourne. She mentioned we were heading to the GP, so arrangements were made for him to take us to lunch at Duttons. Now, if someone had told me in January that I’d be lunching with Allan Moffat, I’d never have believed it, but just as I wrote last month about John Surtees the competitor and the other John Surtees, so it was that the Melbourne-based Canadian, who many of us were never quite sure about during his driving days, turned out to be a generous and accommodating host.
We were joined by fellow Kiwis Garry and Loretta Jackson (Ford fanatics both). Jacko and I tried to pay for lunch, but ‘Moff’ insisted that it was his shout. Lunch was merely part of what he had in store for us — Duttons is this extraordinary emporium where mostly classic cars are sold, restored, prepared, rebuilt, and stored. The public can turn up, have lunch or coffee, and peruse the treasures in the showroom, but we got the behind-the-scenes tour, and all of us were in awe. My wife described it as the highlight of our trip, and I absolutely recommend that you do it when next in Victoria’s capital.
And while there are Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis, Jaguars, Aston Martins, etc. to drool over, every now and then, we happened upon what I’m primarily interested in — racing cars — F1, F2, Le Mans sports cars … the list goes on. The architecture of the building that houses all of this is outstanding on its own — but fill it with beautiful machinery, and you have the makings of a highly memorable post-lunch stroll with a true legend.
Blue oval to his core
Over lunch, I found Moffat to be quite self-effacing and, might I say, surprisingly modest. He certainly has firm views on some of his contemporaries — especially Norm Beechey; but also Bob Jane; Ian Geoghegan; and, of course, Peter Brock. Hopefully what he shared with us over lunch makes his soon-to-be-released book the great read it promises to be. He remains a Ford man through and through — so what did he think of his son James racing a Holden this year? “Next question,” was the response we got, followed by a wry smile before he gave us the background on the arrangement. Over lunch, he ordered a Coke — the sponsor of his highly successful Mustang — and the comment ‘old habits die hard’ was made. I quipped that he was probably wearing Brut 33, too (the next sponsor of the Mustang), and received another smile, followed by, “Hey, I’m watching you.”
It was all in great humour, and both Garry and I later confided in one another that we never imagined the four-time Bathurst winner had this shy aspect to his personality.
We talk about crashes in touring cars these days, and my wife asked him if he’d ever got badly hurt — “My dear, I never ever wrecked a car and never did hospital time.” I asked how close he really came to racing a Formula 5000 car in the 1972 Tasman Series and learned that, while Ford was keen, he was less so — “The only time I drove an openwheeler, I kept looking for the windscreen — I decided I like windscreens …”
Following Formula 4
Last month, I made mention of Southlander Brendon Leitch’s quest to raise the funds to head to America and compete in the Formula 4 championship. Other Kiwis are competing in this new and important feeder series, including Ferrari-backed 16-year-old Marcus Armstrong in the Italian series (like Leitch, he has started strongly), but even younger is just-turned-15 Liam Lawson. In July this year, it will be 50 years since the first Formula Ford race, the world’s greatest ever junior category, but in all that time and in all the countries in which Formula Ford is raced, never before has there been a champion as young as Lawson — in fact, he won the title at Manfeild in February on his 15th birthday.
Kenny Smith rates him, and he knows a thing or two about spotting talent. Liam is combining his Year 11 studies at Pukekohe High School with the Australian Formula 4 championship. He’s started well — winning round one convincingly at the historic Sandown Park.
Below: Denny on his way to winning his first GP — Monaco 1967
Right: Denny Hulme in the Eagle at Indy — end of May 1967
Chris Amon at Monaco on the day he finished third — Denny Hulme won
Above: Behind the scenes at Duttons Below: Liam Lawson – sensational 1st weekend in F4