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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

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